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Vaishnava Ritual Manuals & Reformist Voices within Bengali Vaishnavism in Colonial Bengal

Sisir Kumar Ghosh (1840-1911), a journalist-turned-Vaishnava bhakta had once asked Chaitanya Das Babaji (1768-1878), an aged Vaishnava ascetic of Nabadwip, ‘How can one attain Bhakti?’ In response the Babaji is said to have replied, ‘You can learn it for two paisa.’ Taken aback by the rebuff, Ghosh questioned the reason for being slighted. To this, the Babaji replied that, ‘With two paisa you can get hold of a copy of Narottam Thakur’s Prarthana published from the Battala Press, and by reading, it gain bhakti.’[1]

This somewhat apocryphal encounter between a modern English-educated middle class journalist-turned-devotee and an aged Vaishnava ascetic sometime in the late nineteenth century appears particularly significant in revealing the value that the printed word had gained as a vehicle for propagating Bhakti even among traditional ascetic circles in hinterland towns like Nabadwip in the Nadia district. This conversation serves as a pretext for the historical context of this paper. Colonial Bengal along with much of the Indian subcontinent was experiencing an entire array of transformative tendencies ranging from the initiation of print, the publication of vernacular periodicals and ritual manuals, modification in conventional modes of religious transmission such as Bhagavat Path and Kathakatha, increasing circulation of visual images, the emergence of a colonial public sphere and above all, a proliferation of religious institutions that aimed at reforming religious identities of the believers.

Broadly, this paper engages with the textual representation of religious rituals/practices of devotion (observances, rituals, etc) that forms a sub-segment of the genre known within western academia as Ritual Studies. If ‘religious ritual’ is defined as a broad set of cultural practices prescribed and observed by a community of believers, then it is also considered that such rituals represent a ‘grammar’ or ‘language’ or the ‘building blocks’ of a religious tradition and are crucial for conveying distinct notions about the tradition to its followers. Thus, ritual manuals represent compendiums in which a corpus of standardized religious rituals and observances are supposed to be encoded and recorded for transmission among believers. The Bengali Vaishnava tradition has specific sets of rituals pertaining to vaidhi bhakti that have been outlined in the 16th century compendium Haribhaktivilasa. Practitioners and scholars of Gaudiya Vaishnavism show that the primary text for Vaidhi bhakti that was prescribed in the 16th century text was the Haribhaktivilas (literally, Splendour of devotion to Hari) written by Sanatan Goswami. This text, written in circa 1540, is one of the first Sanskrit works of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava saṃpradāya begun by Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya (1486–1533), detailing in twenty long chapters and around 12,000 verses of normative sadācāra or correct conduct as well as the ritual life of a Vaiṣṇava, ranging from how to properly brush the teeth upon getting up in the morning to how to build a temple for Viṣṇu. This text played and still plays a very significant role in shaping the ritual worship of the Gaudiya Vaishnava community.

However, in the post-Chaitanya phase after the passing away of the main disciples of the tradition including Advaita, Nityananda, Gadadhara, etc and in the wake of the emergence of several local Vaishnava sects a general dilution of Vaishnava beliefs is considered to have taken place when the beliefs and organizational structures of Gaudiya Vaishnavism weakened and to an extent became corrupted. This rupture or modification in religious attitudes in the intervening centuries and the critique of Vaishnava traditions during the colonial period by Orientalists, Christian missionaries and census-administrators led to a reaction in the minds of Vaishnava intellectuals. Thereby an urgent need was felt by some educated Bengali Vaishnavas of the colonial era to resuscitate a proper form of worship and collate booklets of such rituals and propagate its relevance within society. Thus, we find a spurt of Vaishnava ritual manuals being published such as Gauranga Puja Paddhati (1892), Sanatan Vaishnava Vratadino Utsav samay prabhriti nirnay pustak (1900), Samshipta Vaishnava Nityakarma, Sri Sri Vaishnaviya Nitya-Karma-Sar (1920) among a host of others.

My presentation is divided into three parts. In the first segment, I provide a very brief survey of the Vaishnava rituals as mentioned in the Haribhaktivilas to understand the way in which the early Vaishnava tradition tried to shape the rituals and observances to be performed by the believers. In the second segment, I will look at the broad historical milieu of criticisms against Vaishnavism in the colonial times that projected a faulty image of an effete tradition. In the final segment, I shall focus on Vaishnava reformist tendencies, in particular on a text published in 1923 titled Prabartakdiger Sribigraha Seva Pranali by Priyanath Sen that tried to publicize to the common masses the path of worship and devotion to Chaitanya. This presentation, I hope, will help us raise broader issues relating to the significance of worship, murti seva, and ritual festivities within the Chaitanya Vaishnava tradition and the ways in which such practices influenced the spread of the tradition.

Section I: Historiographic Overview

From at least the 1960s onwards, Ritual Studies has emerged as a specific interdisciplinary area of study in the context of Religious Studies, Comparative Religions and Theological Approaches in the West. The literature on the topic, especially for non-Indian religious traditions is too large to be noted at length ranging from Catherine Bell’s Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (1992) and Ronald L. Grimes’s anthology, Readings in Ritual Studies (1996) to Roy A. Rappaport’s Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity (1999). However, the studies on Indic religious rituals and liturgies (at least for the Bengali Vaishnavas) from a historical perspective have not been done at all. Axel Michaels’ Homo Ritualis: Hindu Ritual and its Significance for Ritual Theory (2016) is perhaps a noteworthy general survey of Hindu rituals as a whole. There have been some case studies on how seva and murti puja is organized at Gaudiya Vaishnava temples notably by Margaret Case and Kenneth R. Valpey.[2]

However, one needs to stress the fact that very few ritual handbooks have been edited or translated, and there are only a few studies on the textual and contextual peculiarities of such texts. Even Alfred Hillebrandt (1897) and Jan Gonda (1977, 653–59), who have contributed most to the study of this genre, elaborate only randomly on the more recent handbooks, even though none of these authors would deny the value of handbooks.[3] It is not that the Haribhaktivilasa as a text has not been studied academically. Sushil Kumar De (1942: 340–402) discussed the text and summarised its contents, and Rasik Vihari Joshi’s (1959) study on Kṛṣṇaite ritual was mainly based on the HBV (Haribhaktivilasa). More recent studies include Krishnadas Sinha’s (2009) doctoral thesis on the influence of the HBV on the Bishnupriya Manipuri community, Elisabeth Raddock’s (2011) work on its relationship with the Hayaśīrṣa Pañcarātra and Barbara Holdrege’s (2015: 287–289) discussion of the way in which the Haribhaktivilasa deals with reconfiguring the elements of the practitioner’s body before worship. [4] The latest critical edition and annotated translation of the text has been done by Måns Broo.[5] But no particular academic studies have been done to historically link Vaishnava ritual manuals of the colonial times with earlier texts and notice similarities, divergences and patterns of change.

Let us now turn to the early Vaishnava ritual tradition as noted by the Haribhaktivilasa. There is debate within Vaishnava scholarship regarding the authorship of the Haribhaktivilasa but that has not stopped the text from becoming one of the most important prescriptive ritual texts of Gaudiya Vaishnava believers.[6] The madhyalila (Chapter 24 verses 331-333) of Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s Chaitanya Charitamrita states that Caitanya Mahaprabhu instructed Sanatana Gosvami to write a book about Vaishnava behaviour and activities.[7]

Scholars have shown that the Haribhaktivilasa draws heavily from a host of previous sources including the Bhagavata, Kurma and Vishnu Puranas, the Kramadīpikā by Kesava Kasmirin and a whole host of verses culled from the Agastya Saṃhita, Hayasirṣa Saṃhita, Puraṇa, Narada Pancaratra and the Gopalatapani Upaniṣad, but also all of the scriptural verses cited in the corresponding sections of the Jayamadhavamanasollasa on the duties of Vaishnava devotees by King Jayasimha of Gorakhpur, the Rāmārcanacandrika, a text on Rāma worship written by Ananda Vana, the Nṛsiṃhaparicaryā by Kṛṣṇadeva Acharya and Viṣṇubhakticandrodaya by Nṛsiṃha Araṇya Muni. By reusing material from these older Vaishnava ritual texts, the author positions himself within authoritative traditions.

 In general, the presentation of each topic of the Haribhaktivilasa follows the same order. The author begins by establishing the mandatoriness (nityata) of that particular ritual or observance, then describes the rules or procedure (vidhi) to be observed and finally provides a description of its “greatness” (mahatmya), that is, what its rewards will be, often in a very exaggerated style. Sometimes the same is accomplished in a negative way, that is, through describing the punishments for non-observance.

A brief survey of the first five chapters of the Haribhaktivilasa would reveal how detailed and comprehensive its approach to the issue of vaidhi bhakti was. After explaining the need for approaching a guru (1.28–31), the author provides several lists of ideal characteristics of guru and disciple (1.32–71). This is followed by a short section on how guru and disciple are to observe each other before initiation (1.72–76), various rules for how to serve the guru and how the disciple should ask the guru for initiation (1.77–100). The section on the guru is followed by a section on how Viṣṇu is superior to the other gods (1.101–117), and how therefore mantras directed to Viṣṇu are the best of mantras (1.118–121). Apart from general Viṣṇu mantras (1.122–141), mantras to Nṛsiṃha (1.142–143) and Rāma (1.144–151) are also described and glorified, but the main emphasis is given to the 18-syllable mantra of Gopala Kṛṣṇa (1.152–191). After establishing that everyone is eligible for initiation into this mantra (1.192–197), the author describes methods for determining how suitable a particular mantra is to a particular practitioner (1.198–224), noting that the power of the Gopāla mantra transcends such considerations. Nevertheless, the author concludes the first chapter with a brief introduction to some methods of purifying other mantras (1.225–234).

The second chapter deals with initiation, first establishing its mandatoriness (2.3–8), its greatness (māhātmya, see 20; 2.9–12) and then deliberating on the proper time for initiation (2.13–30). This is followed by a very detailed description of the various parts of preparing for and performing an elaborate ceremonial initiation (kriyāvatī dīkṣā, 2.31–183), including lists of the regulations the disciple is to follow henceforth (2.132–176). Next follows a somewhat simpler Purāṇic style of initiation (2.184–233), then various other more simplified methods (2.234–246). The chapter ends with a short description of the greatness of bestowing a Viṣṇu mantra (2.247–250).

The third chapter begins the description of the ideal daily life of the initiated Vaiṣṇava devotee. After introducing the importance and greatness of virtuous conduct (sadācāra, 3.4–19), the author takes up the daily duties, beginning with arising before sunrise, sipping water (ācamana) and changing clothes (3.20–21). He goes on to describe glorifying and remembering Kṛṣṇa and the greatness of such remembrance (3.22–87), bowing down and praying to the Lord (3.88–98), meditation on the Lord and its greatness (3.98–129), how to wake the Lord and remove offered flowers, leaves and fruits from the altar (3.130–145), how to cleanse the Lord’s mouth (3.146–149) and the offering of the auspicious waving of lights (maṅgalanīrājana, 3.150–152). This is followed by the rules for the morning bath to be taken after sunrise, prefixed by those for attending the call of nature and subsequent purification (3.156–184), sipping water (ācamana, 3.185–208), brushing the teeth (3.209–234) and arranging the hair (3.235–236). The instructions on bathing itself (3.237–280) focus on bathing outside at a sacred site (tīrtha); that bathing is to be supplemented by sprinkling one’s head with water that has washed the feet of the guru, father, Brāhmaṇas, water from a conch and especially from the Śālagrāma stone (3.281–304). One is then to offer libations (tarpaṇa) to the gods (3.305–306), sit down and do the sandhyā rituals, first in the Vedic way (3.307–315) and then in the Tantric way (3.316–336), here meaning worshipping Kṛṣṇa in the sun and in water. This is then followed by more libations (3.337–354) and finally a deliberation on the proper attitude for all such rituals (3.355–360).

The fourth chapter deals with preparation for worship. After returning home after the rituals detailed in the previous chapter, the devotee is to clean the Lord’s temple, plaster the floor with cow dung and clay and decorate the temple with svastikas, flags and so on (4.4–53) as well as clean the vessels for worship (4.55–96). The devotee is then to pick flowers, Tulasī leaves and other necessities for the worship (4.97–99). If needed, he can then take another bath at home, using warm water, oil or other cleansing agents unless it is a day on which such items are forbidden (4.100–145). The author then provides rules for what kind of clothes to wear (4.146–161), the seat to use (4.162–165), and then how to draw the vertical mark of the Vaiṣṇavas (ūrdhvapuṇḍra) on one’s body (4.166–224), preferably with gopīcandana clay or mud from the root of a Tulasī plant (4.225–243). The practitioner should then decorate his body with the marks of Viṣṇu (conch, disc, club and so forth, 4.244–303), necklaces, garlands and other decorations (4.303–335). The author follows with a short description of sandhyā at home (4.336–338), of worship of the guru (4.339–369) and of how to enter the temple of the Isvara (4.370–373).

The fifth chapter begins with the worship at the gate of the temple (5.6–11), entering properly (5.12–14), worshipping the attendant divinities (5.15–16) and then ritually binding the directions (digbandhana, 5.17), sitting down on a proper seat (āsana, 5.18–27) and then arranging the items necessary for the worship in their proper places (5.28–53). Thereafter the practitioner should recite Vedic mantras for invoking peace (5.54–56), removing obstacles (5.57–59), bowing to his gurus and the attendant divinities and visualising a protective wall of fire around himself (5.60–62). This is followed by a description of how to purify the elements of the body (5.63–73), restrain the breath (prāṇāyāma, 5.74–87). The author then deals in some detail with various ways of superimposing mantras onto the body (nyāsa, 5.88–165). After briefly mentioning various hand gestures to be shown (mudrā, 5.166–167), the author provides both longer and shorter visualisation of Gopāla Kṛṣṇa (5.168–218). This is followed by a description of the internal sacrifice, comprising both worship of the Lord in the mind and worship of the Lord within the practitioner’s body (5.219–248). The description of the external worship then begins with a consideration of the various external abodes of the Lord, including a description of various forms of Viṣṇu (5.249–295). The Śālagrāma stones are particularly emphasised and their variety is described in great detail, as well as the greatness of their worship (5.296–456). The practitioner is finally enjoined to worship the Śālagrāma stone together with a stone from Dvārkā, the varieties of which are also described (5.457–480).

The Haribhaktivilasa in its manuscript form was widely circulated in eastern India and we may surmise that it formed a brief survey of the historical evolution of Bengali Vaishnava movement from the sixteenth century onwards reveals that it was based around sampradayas, vamsas, parivars or family/lineage based religious orders around prominent personalities such as Nityananda, Advaita Acharya, Bangshibadan Das, Narottam Das, Srinivas Acharya and Shyamananda among others and thus sripats or sectarian sacred centres such as Santipur, Khardah, Srikhanda, Baghnapara, etc. mushroomed all over the Bengali landscape.[8]

Section II: Objectifying the Gaudiya Vaishnavas in colonial discourses

If we move on to see how Bengali Vaishnavism as a religious category and Bengali Vaishnavas as a social category were perceived by Orientalist scholars, Christian Missionaries, British administrator – ethnographers, and Census observers then our analysis would reveal a typical stereotyping of Vaishnavas as deviant, promiscuous and immoral.

By the early nineteenth century it became a truism that Christian missionary perceptions were guided by the conviction to spread the ‘true religion’ among the ‘ignorant Indian masses’ as also to produce knowledge of heathen customs and traditions that implicitly helped colonial political endeavours. Thus, missionaries documented, what they termed, “the excesses of native immorality”. Reverend William Ward, the Serampore missionary, considered that the distinguishing vice of the Bengali Vaishnavas is “impurity as might be expected from the character of Krishna, their favourite deity, and from the obscene nature of the festivals held in his honour”.[9]

Another Christian convent, Reverand Lal Behari De, used specific terms to malign the character of Chaitanya in the mid 19th century. He identified the ‘nocturnal devotions’ of the ‘Gay lord’ and pronounced with missionary adroitness that “Chaitanya’s mind, which was early tinctured with no small degree of fanaticism also displayed unmistakable signs of imbecility”.[10] Thus missionary accounts tried their hands at character assassination of Hindu divinities. But simultaneously, they also tried to create a comparative framework by essentializing the similarities and dissimilarities between Christianity and Bengali Vaishnavism. Reverend De thus referred to ‘Advaita’s foretelling the divinity of Chaitanya’, about ‘gifts given to the babe (Chaitanya) by the deities of Vaikuntha’, and the ‘evangelistic expedition’ of Chaitanya to South India. He also went on to locate parallels of the varying rasas or emotions of bhakti – Santa, Dasya, Sakhya, Vatsalya and Madhurya – in Christian attitudes.

The beginning of ‘Bhakti’ translated as monotheism within Indian traditions was debated in the missionary and Orientalist discourses. While Lal Behari De considered it as a ‘new element in Hinduism; it is wanting in the Vedanta and all ancient Hindu scripture”, by the turn of the century, however, we find G.A. Grierson in his essay on ‘Bhakti Marga’[11] stating that- ‘This feeling of bhakti was very old in India”. This apparent extolling of the germs of monotheism in Indian traditions was attributed to the influence of Syrian Nestorian Christians who have resided in South India from the 3rd century onwards.

However, in the relative scale of evaluating Bengali traditions, Vaishnavism was accorded a higher status than Shakta or Tantric traditions due to its emphasis on bhakti (translated by them as monotheism) and its non-indulgence in bloody sacrificial rituals. At another level, ‘bhakti’ as expressed in Bengali Vaishnavism was considered as being opposed to the rigid religious ritualism of the Vedas. It was from this perspective that H.H. Wilson[12] saw in the ‘bhakti’ of the Vaishnavas of Bengal an “important innovation upon the primitive systems of Hindu religion”. According to Monier-Williams[13] the evolution of Hindu religion occurred gradually from Vedism to Brahmanism to Saivism and ultimately to Vaishnavism. To him, it represented the “the only real religion of the Hindus” due to its tolerant and adaptive nature.

As far as assessments of Bengali Vaishnavism were concerned, by 1925, Melville T. Kennedy, the warden of the YMCA at Calcutta, extrapolated the comparative methodology of religious study further by devoting an entire section to ‘The Chaitanya Movement in relation to Christianity’. To Kennedy, “of all the manifestations of the Hindu religious consciousness, the Vaishnava bhakti sects come nearest in thought and practice to the religion of Christ; and among them the Bengal school…offers many points of comparison to Christian thought and devotion”. Thus the figure of Mary conveyed the Santa Rasa, and Jesus washing the feet of his disciples conveyed the Dasya rasa. But even here, he considered that Bengali Vaishnavism suffered from the inherent defects of ‘intellectual feebleness’ and ‘moral weakness’.

Thus, in the portrayal of Bengali Vaishnavism, the element of Bhakti has been praised in both Orientalist and missionary narratives nevertheless its supposedly ‘immature’ quality has come up for censure. Bengali Vaishnavism represented at most the best among the worst heathen traditions.

The Bengali Vaishnavas as a social category in colonial official discourses suffer from several drawbacks. Firstly, intra-communal divisions within the Vaishnava community in Bengal were often glossed over or were loosely portrayed in these accounts so that identification of Vaishnava castes and sects remained at best diffuse. Secondly, the social practices and customs of the Vaishnava mainstream and more specifically the deviant cults were used to highlight their difference and divergence from the ritual rigidity of the Brahmanical system. This lack of scriptural rules among Vaishnava sects was considered as an index of their proneness to immorality. And thirdly, the relative relaxation of caste rigidity by the Vaishnava sects and their inclusion of people of low social denomination was criticized. The volumes of the ‘Statistical accounts of Bengal’ by W. W. Hunter[14] in the late 1870s mentioned about goswamis acting as gurus to prostitutes and Bairagis or Vaishnava ascetics leading immoral lives.

The census reports from 1872 onwards tend to give a homogenized perception of the Vaishnavas that hide a much more nuanced heterogeneity at the ground level. We find a common thread running through the voice of the Census commissioners as far as their assessments of the Vaishnavas of Bengal are concerned. The demographic data where female Vaishnava members far outstripped their male counterparts is explained as the direct consequence of the unrestricted entry of prostitutes and women of loose morals. Melville Kennedy, among others, has noted the elusiveness of the Vaishnavas of Bengal as a social category since they do not fit the idea of a sect and seem to merge with the population at large. The objectification process that the census operations generated produced data that can at best be stated dubious. It forced people to fit themselves within categories that they were scarcely conscious or aware of.

Denigration of Vaishnava sects, especially located at the margins and of Brahmin gurus ministering to the ajalchal (or lower castes) was rampant in the writings of Jogendranath Bhattacharya[15] in the late 19th century. He derided Chaitanya for his lack of foresight – “To suppose that he never could anticipate the results which are now found to arise out of the sect that he inculcated, is the height of absurdity”.[16] His contention was that only by marginalizing these sections could their contagion be contained. In the 19th c. while the Advaita Acharya branch based in Santipore drew its constituents from upper castes the Khardah based Nityananda branch preached their tenets to all and sundry from the lower castes to prostitutes.

Thus, 19th c. criticism of Vaishnavas by Brahmins like Jogendranath Bhattacharya (who was incidentally the leader of the Brahman Samaj of Nabadwip) was a historically evolved attitude, an attitude that exposed the anxiety of the orthodox Hindu towards ritual pollution.

Thus, the social ridiculing of Vaishnava gurus and Vaishnava society at large and especially at the margins was the dominant voice in most discourses. In this sense, Bengali Vaishnavism and the Bengali Vaishnavas were not represented but re-presented by the dominant discourses in ways that perhaps de-figured the lived reality or value orientation of practicing Vaishnavas. The coming in of print technology and an organizational culture within the colonial public domain in the 19th century offered new opportunities to the Vaishnavas to salvage their sacred heritage.[17] Let us now turn to examine how ritual manuals in the colonial period tried to reinforce religiosity among the Vaishnavas.

Section III: Ritual Manuals in the Colonial Period

The criticisms that were heaped on the Vaishnavas by the colonial administrators along with the emergence of print culture and a reading public sphere in Bengal saw a renewed attempt by educated Vaishnavas to propagate a reformed vision of their culture. This sometimes meant a renewed study of the traditional Vaishnava literary heritage and its propagation among the masses through religious journals, pamphlets and manuals. It was in such a context of slackening religious rituals that Gaudiya Vaishnavas began to publish manuals of worship in short booklet form that could be disseminated widely due to their easy language, simple format and cheap value. As the brief list given below shows by the early twentieth century the number of Vaishnava ritual digests for guiding the Vaishnava community was rather voluminous:

Without dissecting the commonalities and divergences among these ritual manuals deriving primarily from sectarian or theological divergences, it may be surmised that these works made a sincere attempt to conciliate the emphasis laid by traditional texts within a modernist/sectarian setting.

Even articles on ritual in Vaishnava periodicals mentioned about the extreme dissension among Bengali Vaishnavas about procedural aspects of performing bratas and upabas (ritual fasts) due to the absence of qualified Vaishnava smarta pandits. So they were being forced to depend on the panjikas (almanacs) where some publishers included some Vaishnava rituals with the suffix ‘as stated by Goswamis’. This had led to a dispute over the performance of ‘Shravana-dwadasi-brata’ in 1911.[18] Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati had in 1897 established a ‘Saraswat Chatuspathi’ at Maniktala to foster study in astrology and published two periodicals titled ‘Jyotirbid’ and ‘Brihashpati’ that culminated in the compilation of a Bhaktibhavan Panjika.[19] By 1925, the Gaudiya Math began to publicize almanacs produced for the first time by Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati in 1917 that judged astrological data (including bar, tithi, nakshatra, mas, hritu, barsha, and abda) and determined the respective dates of birth and demise of all major and minor Gaudiya Vaishnava personalities along with prescriptions for the performance of requisite fasts and festivals.[20] Gautam Bhadra has recently pointed to the ubiquitous popularity of the almanac not only as a text regulating Hindu society but also as a vibrant site for performances, images and reading practices of Bengali society.[21]

In an important article titled ‘Sampradaya pranali’ (The procedure of the Community) Kedarnath outlined the need for tracing a community of devoted householders;

‘Staying within the bounds of family life (sansar) and living our lives with a correct livelihood we will devote ourselves to the worship of the God. Those who take up this aim constitute a sampradaya. Sampradaya is the eternal religion of man. Simple but intelligent persons publicly accept their sampradaya. Crooked, shortsighted and argumentative persons constitute a sampradaya without even accepting it. Thereby they merely deceive themselves.’[22]

He further contended that:

‘An analysis of history would reveal that Indians had never held a belief against the concept of a sampradaya which had emerged with their association with the western-education. In western lands religion has taken the shape of their lands, but some people with the intention of freeing themselves from the bonds of religion have begun showing disgust for the concept of community. Even some people with limited intellect of our country have been influenced by them and have stood up against this notion. Constant interaction with them, hearing their speeches, and reading their literature has led to the superstition among some from their childhood to the extent that they get irked once they hear the word sampradaya….But after much discussion we arrived at the conclusion that sampradaya pranali is extremely beneficial for mankind.’[23]

He exhorted that the ‘duty of the intelligent individual is to enter into a sampradaya and then cleanse it from within’ and likened this with an allusion to the bazaar. ‘Although good products are not always available and many forms of corrupt practices go on in the bazaar it is important to reform the bazaar, not to shut it down altogether.[24] The terminology of the marketplace is significant in this context. Kedarnath also warned of dire consequences for those who are against sampradaya;

‘If sampradaya becomes extinct due to the efforts of modern cowards then what benefit will it serve? Some western scholars have stated that sampradayas were formed due to the selfish desires of their founders. This is most unfortunate…those who lived in huts, lived on a little food and composed texts for the spiritual betterment of others, where is their selfishness?’[25]

An article on ‘Dikshar adhikar’ (the Right of Initiation) in the Gauranga Sevak of 1911 criticized the attempt by some contemporaries to seek salvation through meditation alone and instead propounded a return to rigours of Vaishnava ritual and of especially taking recourse to initiation by the masses (including lower classes and women) as a mandatory command prescribed by scriptures, especially the Haribhaktivilas.[26] Such a perspective also displayed a strong preference for the centrality for the institution of guruship. The guru had to be a sampradayik Vaishnava guru and despised leaders who distributed self-manufactured initiatory rituals to unworthy initiates. The devotional periodicals propagated a renewed emphasis on the institution of guruship that had been lambasted in colonial discourses. Thus, the Vaishnava remaking also had strong traditionalist content.

Vaishnava auspicious dates (tithi) and festivals had already begun to be publicly celebrated by the late nineteenth century. The most significant among these was the celebration of Chaitanya’s birth anniversary. Contrary to Varuni Bhatia’s contention that the Bishnupriya Patrika was the first to organize Chaitanya’s birth anniversary celebrations in 1899 evidence from the Sajjantoshani dated 1885 clearly show the initiation of this festival by Kedarnath Datta under the aegis of the Viswa Vaishnava Sabha.[27] The celebration included the performance of namsankirtan and speeches. Interestingly, it was at this meeting that he proposed the propagation of Chaitanyabda or Chaitanya Era by Bengali Vaishnava followers.[28] The Sajjantoshani also informed its readers that such celebrations were organized at Nabadwip and at Sripat Dogachiya in Krishnanagar.[29] Several important historical events from the Vaishnava heritage were re-initiated and celebrated annually with pomp and splendour. The Gauranga Sevaka reported the re-initiation of festivities commemorating Gauranga’s arrival at the Vaishnava center of Panihati (known as Panihati mahotsav) en route to Brindaban in the early 17th century.[30] People came from the suburbs of Calcutta and its adjoining districts from places like Bhabanipur, Srirampur, Chinsura, Naihati, Titagarh, Kamarhati, Alambazar, Ariadaha, among others. The Gauranga Sevaka referred to the Dhulot festival of Nabadwip.[31]

The foundation of a new institution named Sri Krishna Chaitanya Tattva Pracharini Sabha (henceforth SKCTPS) with a periodical SriSriKrishna-Chaitanya-Tattwa-Pracharak by a Vaishnava devotee named Dr. Priyanath Nandi in Calcutta was a momentous new venture. From around 1907 he collaborated with Sisir Kumar Ghosh to resuscitate a ‘pure’ form of the Gaudiya tradition.[32] The SKCTPS took up the self-conscious role of being a reformist Vaishnava organization that aimed at ‘reforming the diverse forms of licentiousness (byabhichar) and corruption (glani) and the different types of deviant sects (upadharma) that have crept into the ‘pure’ (bisuddha) [Vaishnava] religion.[33] It was thus framed as a religious forum attended by monks, religious preachers, Goswamis, Kirtaniyas, and devotees that met every Sunday (later shifted to Saturday from 1918 onwards) for lectures, congregational nam kirtan sessions and discussions on several socio-religious issues. Separate seating arrangements for men and women were kept so that both sexes could attend its lectures.

The aim of the new institution, according to the most significant publication of this sabha titled Prabartakdiger Sribigraha Seva Pranali (Exposition of the Sanctioned way of Idol worship for Initiates) in 1923 was to publicize to the common masses of Bengal the correct path of worship and devotion to Chaitanya. It harboured deep suspicions regarding the methods of religious service adopted by various constituents of traditional Vaishnava leaders including the lineage goswamis.[34] Thus, it had a dual intention of simultaneously expunging the intransigent orders and despising the ‘failings’ of traditional Vaishnava goswamis. Despite this radical stance the moral reformist stress of this organization provided a converging ground for various sections including lineage goswamis (such as Atulkrishna Goswami and Balaichand Goswami of the Nityananda order, and Bipinbihari Goswami of the Bangshibadan order); lay middle class neo-Vaishnava intellectuals (like Sisir Kumar Ghosh, Kedarnath Datta, and Rasikmohan Vidyabhushan); pious zamindari patrons (like Banamali Ray Bahadur [1862-1914] of Tarash in Pabna district[35]) and temple priests or sebaits from Nabadwip, Puri and Brindaban (especially Madhusudan Goswami and Radhakrishna Das Goswami).

The SKCTPS adopted a novel technique of drafting byabasthapatras (literally ‘Religious circulars’) on relevant issues concerning the Vaishnava community, getting them duly signed by leading members of goswami parivaras from different parts of Bengal and finally, circulating such petitions as printed hand bills in Bengali and at other times in dual Bengali and Sanskrit for public distribution and mass awareness. Meetings among Vaishnava leaders and the publication of tracts consequent to obtaining consensual acquiescence from heads of temples/akharas was not uncommon in the late 19th century.[36]

The issues that the SKCTPS dwelt upon almost invariably related to the ‘evils’ that had denigrated the Vaishanava community and had come to generate a lot of public opprobrium. The themes covered related to ‘Reform of Vaishnava society’, ‘Vaishnava ritual reform’, ‘Problem of selecting a Guru’, ‘Reform of religion and pilgrimage places’ and ‘Religious grant-holding property’ among others.[37] Nandi, as the assistant secretary of the organization, travelled extensively to various Vaishnava centres like Puri, Brindaban, Nabadwip, Khardah, Santipur and Baghnapara to gather signatures testifying the approval from traditional Vaishnava sectarian and lineage leaders. The fact that many of the bills were published verbatim in periodicals like the Sri Vaishnava Sevika testifies the collaborative potential of the Vaishnava reformist endeavour.[38] These bills appealed to readers to become active volunteers in the Vaishnava cause and to financially support the effort through pooling in of subscriptions. It also requested readers to send the names of prominent local goswamis whose consent could be included in future circulars. The sabha set for itself an ambitious intention ‘of door-to-door distribution of these bills in every house of every major district town and village’.[39] It appears that bill publication was carried on both by public subscription as well as through donations by wealthy individuals.[40] In some cases the number of prints of byabasthapatra’s like ‘Vaishnava Samaje Sadhan Bhajan Sanskar’ [‘Ritual and Spiritual Reform within Vaishnava society’] almost touched one lakh.

One of the issues touched upon by these tracts was on the contamination of Vaishnava society through indiscriminate initiation of ‘licentious’ women, a topic that had been much debated in various 19th century colonial discourses. In effect, such tracts represented a response to allegations and aspersions cast on the Vaishnava community. However, Bengali Vaishnavas rather than contending colonial perspectives and building up an inclusive model of scaling caste divisions within the Vaishnava community, appeared to internalize arguments of religious decline. They set for themselves the task of shunning ‘popular’ sects, their leaders and lower castes and prostitutes who were identified as the root cause of disorder and decline.[41] It also targeted such ascetics (‘bairagis’) who left their householder duties, took ‘bhek’ (initiation) and lived with other female companions (sevadasis or kisoris) as part of parakiya sadhana (extramarital ritual). Such men were condemned as non-Vaishnavas for being licentious and corrupt (durachari, kadachari and lampat).’[42]

In subsequent years, Nandi prepared another tract entitled ‘Vaishnava Samaje Sadhan Bhajan Sanskar’ on correct Vaishnava ritual which was signed by leading members of more than forty-five other traditional Goswami leaders across lineages and sripats of Bengal from Calcutta, Dacca, Santipur, Nabadwip, Burdwan, Hooghly, Bankura, Murshidabad and Pabna. In fact, the community to whom they were addressing their tracts were invariably referred to as ‘the educated community’ and ‘the people of India (bharatbarsha)’.[43] In the tract Nandi tried to invoke the concept of ‘Aryan blood’ and ‘manliness’ of his readers while appealing to the young and old of the country to build up a ‘mass movement’ against corrupt bairagis by refusing to give them ‘mushtibhiksha’ (alms-giving) and ‘boycotting’ (originally cited in English) to either visit or take prasad at temples where idols were maintained by such corrupt men. This was envisaged as a ‘lesson’ for such corrupt leaders.[44] Certain tracts such as ‘Vaishnava samaje sadhan bhajan sanskar’ (Reform of Worship by the Vaishnava society) carried a comprehensive list of eighteen points that significantly set down normative parameters that the ‘reformed’ Gaudiya Vaishnava community was expected to conform. Thereby, it tried to rearrange the frontiers of the Vaishnava community to exclude deviants lying on the margins.[45]

A close reading of some of the tracts like ‘Dharmao Tirtha Sanskar’ (Reform of Religion and Pilgrimage) reveals a trenchant detestation for some contemporary innovations like the acceptance of saffron dress and initiation of ascetic Sannyas (although the name of Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati was not alluded to in the text) and the notion of Brahman-Vaishnava equivalence as propagated by the principle of Diksha-Brahman (adopting the sacred thread by the Vaishnava and changing the gotra and name of the initiated disciple). These were opposed as ‘innovations’ (sechchhachar) which were neither adopted nor approved by the famed six Goswamis of Brindaban (not even by the Kayastha Raghunath Das).[46] The SKCTPS also came down heavily against the new practice of celebrating birth anniversaries of Vaishnava saints or the construction of idols of initiating ascetics (diksha gurus). The tract also proclaimed that ‘What can be more pitiful for the Hindu religion than earning sin by giving money (bhet) to corrupt sadhus at pilgrim centres?’[47] This points to the emergence of new intra-Vaishnava squabbles that cropped up to puncture unity of purpose among divergent strands of the neo-Vaishnava movement.

The SKCTPS also circulated a byavasthapatra relating to ‘Debottar Sampatti’ (Religious Property Grants) stating that ‘although numerous pious rich men have granted lands for religious service from times immemorial these grants are not being utilized properly for the welfare of the people but for the selfish interests of certain persons.’[48] It condemned the collection of money for the purpose of reconstruction of such places of worship, and the oppression of pilgrims at pilgrim centres by religious specialists like pandas. In order to rectify this situation the SKCTPS proposed a slew of reformist measures for both donors and receivers of such grants:

  1. Donors should specify clearly the exact aims for which grants are made.
  2. These grants should never be made hereditarily. The trustees should have the power of selecting the next successor who is appropriately endowed with religiosity. They should dismiss unworthy priests and sebaits.
  3. The sebaits/priests should not receive any portion whether in the form of clothes, ornaments, or food offerings made by people except the dakshina (alms) given to them.
  4. Nowadays the number of religious property-grabbers is numerous. Hence, those who wish to make religious grants should appropriately designate their successors in accordance with the law and never make such grants directly to priests.
  5. Board of Trustees numbering between three to seven members should be created for the proper functioning of idol worship.
  6. Every year at least one-eighth of the annual income from such debottar grants should be used to buy additional property and thus increase its income. In this way, the grants may be used not for the upkeep of corrupt Vaishnavas-Vaishnavis but for providing support to widows or deserted wives, poor students, famine-stricken people, etc.[49]

The layering of a legal legislative backdrop with religious advice may be marked as significant in this context. The SKCTPS even requested the Viceroy and the provincial heads to take cognizance of the fact that religious grants do not belong to priests but to the idol and the people. It must be remembered that in the 1890s there were agitations against the mismanagement of such religious estates at pilgrim centres by the middle classes who even sought the state’s legal intervention in such matters.[50]

The SKCTPS identified the written word, the ritual-theological paradigm and the practices set by the Brindaban goswamis as the norm to be followed. Inversely, any deviation from the sadhan (ritual norms) and acharan (practices) of the goswamis constituted acts of sacrilege. Those who followed the instructions of religious innovators were doomed to fail. In the tract entitled ‘Vaishnava social reform’ it was stated that ‘there is no requirement for female participants in any ritual act of Gaudiya Vaishnava worship. Thus, those who keep the company of female companions and indulge in parakiya worship can never be considered a part of the Gaudiya Vaishnava community’.[51]

A ‘Vaishnava Panjika’ began to be prepared for the utility of the Vaishnava laity. A detailed list of dates worth celebrating by the Vaishnavas was compiled by Sri Gauranga Grantha Mandir, Panihati patronized by the Nityananda order.[52] It included a list of birth and death anniversary celebrations across Bengal sites and personalities from Chaitanya’s time as well as contemporary gurus. The authors wanted to prepare an even more comprehensive list and requested the help of readers to provide further information on personalities and anniversaries.


How did the colonial ritual manuals try to connect to the ritual traditions of the early Vaishnava movement? It seems that while at one level these varied ritual manuals tried to hark back to the past and tried to provide abridged versions of the prescriptions provided in the Haribhaktivilasa regarding proper Vaishnava behaviour. But at the same time, they tried to enforce uniformity in behavioural practices while at the same time including new rituals that vastly expanded the repertoire of Gaudiya Vaishnava rules and rites. For instance, the commemoration of birth/death anniversaries of several Vaishnava saints began to be celebrated with renewed vigour, new temples and Gaudiya Mathas began to be built across Eastern India and through these they attempted to build up a community feeling among Vaishnava devotees. For instance, the SKCTPS tried to reach out to the masses through direct dissemination of didactic instructions via free door to door handouts of printed religious circulars about appropriate Vaishnava behaviour. Volunteers were supposedly recruited for the purpose. It was also progressive in its propagation of a rational common sense of not giving in to blind devotion to emotional bhakti through distribution of alms to ‘religious entrepreneurs’ (‘dharma vyavasayis’) or temple visits to pilgrim centres. This essentially meant that Vaishnava middle class householders were trying to legitimize a reformist agenda by gaining consent and sanction from the traditional classes. Although we are not made aware of important aspects such as how consent was obtained from the goswamis or whether they were always willing to provide them. But the very fact that quite a considerable number of leaders from the traditional Vaishnava lineages participated in this process of socio-religious reform shows that they were involved quite intimately with the ‘Vaishnava’ reformist project. This had profound consequences on the development of new forms of devotion and collective action among Vaishnavas and, if one may use the term, in shaping Vaishnava identities in the modern era.

[1] For this conversation see Haridas Das, Gaudiya Vaishnava Jivana, Vol.1, pp.84-96.

[2] Case, Margaret 1995. Sevā at Rādhāramaṇa Temple, Vṛndāvana. Journal of Vaiṣṇava Studies 3/3, pp. 43–58. And Kenneth R. Valpey, Attending Krishna’s Image: Chaitanya Vaishnava murti-puja as devotional Truth, Routledge, 2006.

[3] Hillebrandt, Alfred. 1897. Ritual-Litteratur, Vedische Opfer und Zauber (Grundriß der

Indo-Arischen Philologie und Altertumskunde, III.2). Straßburg: Karl J. Trübner. Also see Hillebrandt, Alfred. (1921) 1956–1960. “Worship (Hindu).” In vol. 12 of Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings, 795–99. New York: Scribner’s. And Gonda, Jan. 1977. Ritual Sūtras. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz;

[4] De, Sushil Kumar 1942. Early History of the Vaisnava Faith and Movement in Bengal.

From Sanskrit and Bengali Sources. Calcutta: General Printers and Publishers Limited. ; Joshi, Rasik Vihari 1959. Le ritual de la dévotion Kṛṣṇaïte. Pondichéry: Institute Français

d’Indologie.; Holdrege, Barbara 2015. Bhakti and Embodiment. Fashioning Divine Bodies and Devotional Bodies in Kṛṣṇa Bhakti. Oxon: Routledge. Sinha, Krishnadas 2009. A Study of Hari-bhakti-vilāsa And its Relevance to the Bishnupriya Manipuri Community. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis submitted to the University of Gauhati. Available at‑origsite=primo. Accessed 20.9.2021.; Raddock, Elisabeth Eva 2011. Listen how the wise one begins construction of a house for Viṣṇu: vijānatā yathārabhyaṃ gṛhaṃ vaiṣṇavaṃ śṛṇv evaṃ. Chapters 1–13 of the Hayaśīrṣa Pañcarātra. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Berkeley: University of California.;

[5] Broo, Mans. Haribhaktivilāsa of Sanātana Gosvāmin: volume 1Mantras, Initiation and Preparing for Worship (Chapters 1–5).Critical Edition and Annotated Translation, Leiden and Boston: Brill 2023.

[6] There is a discrepancy of opinion regarding the authorship of the Haribhaktivilasa. the numerous manuscripts available clearly say (1.2) that the text was compiled by Gopāla Bhaṭṭa, the disciple of Prabodhānanda, for the pleasure of Rūpa, Sanātana and Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmins. The colophon at the end of every chapter likewise identifies the author as Gopāla Bhaṭṭa. Nevertheless, Jīva Gosvāmin includes the hbv among the works of his uncle Sanātana

Gosvāmin at the end of his Laghuvaiṣṇavatoṣaṇī commentary on the tenth book of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa written in 1582–1583.2 Around 1610, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja ascribes the hbv to Sanātana twice in his Caitanyacaritāmṛta (2.1.35, 3.4.221; for this important early 17th-century hagiography, see Stewart 2010) and even has Caitanya teach a summary of its teachings to Sanātana (2.24.329–345).

Gopāla Bhaṭṭa and Sanātana Gosvāmins both belonged to the famous “Six Gosvāmins of Vṛndāvana”, a group of ascetic and learned men to a large part responsible for establishing Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism in the Vraja area in the 16th century and for systematising the doctrines of this movement. Later day writers such as Anurāgavallī (p. 8) from 1696 by Manohara Dāsa, Nityānanda Dāsa’s Premavilāsa and the Narahari Cakravarti in his Bhaktiratnākara (1.197–198) considers that the idea of the book originated with Gopāla Bhaṭṭa but that it was Sanātana who actually carried out the task, writing in the name of Gopāla Bhaṭṭa.

[7] Among other things He specifically requested: “You should discuss . . . morning duties, remembrance of the Supreme Lord, cleanliness, washing the mouth and other parts of the body. In the morning one should regularly brush his teeth, take his bath, offer prayers to the Lord and obeisances to the spiritual master. One should render service to the spiritual master and paint one’s body in twelve places with iirdhva-pufifira ( ti/aka) . One should stamp the holy names of the Lord on his body, or one should stamp the symbols of the Lord, such as the disc and club. After this, you should describe how one should decorate his body with gopi-candana, wear neck beads, collect tulasi leaves from the tulasi tree, cleanse one’s cloth and the altar, cleanse one’s own house or apartment, and go to the temple and ring the bell to draw the attention of the Lord. Also describe Deity worship, wherein one should offer food to Krsna at least five times daily. One should, in due course of time, place Krsna on a bed. You should also describe the process for offering arati and the worship of the Lord according to the list of five, sixteen or fifty ingredients.” Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 24.331-333.

[8] For the history of the spread of Vaishnava settlements in Bengal I depend on the relevant portions of Hiteshranjan Sanyal, “Trends of Change in Bhakti Movement in Bengal”, Occasional Paper No.76, CSSS, Calcutta, July, 1985; Ramakanta Chakrabarty, Vaisnavism in Bengal: 1486-1900, Calcutta: Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, 1985 and Mans Broo, As Good as God: The Guru in Gaudiya Vaisnavism, Abo Akademi University Press, Saarijarvi, 2003.

[9] William Ward, The Hindoos (History, literature and Religions); A minute description of their manners and customs and translations from the principal works’. Reprint from the 5th edition (1863), Milan Publication Services, New Delhi, 1981. pp. 302-08.

[10] Reverend Lal Behari De, ‘Chaitanya and the Vaishnavas of Bengal’, Calcutta Review, Vol. 15, 1851.

[11] In the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics 1909, Vol. II, ed. By James Hastings, pp. – 539, Edin Burgh.

[12] Horace Haymon Wilson, A Sketch of the Religious sects of the Hindus in 1828.

[13] Monier-Williams, Religious thought and life in India: Vedism, Brahmanism and Hinduism – 1883, London. Hinduism published in 1885, passim.

[14] W.W.Hunter, A Statistical Account of Bengal, Trubner and Co., London. 1875. Vol. I and V.

[15] JogendraNath Bhattacharya, Hindu Castes and Sects, 1896.

[16] Bhattacharya categorized the Bengali Vaishnavas into 3 categories – The Disreputable sections of the Chaitanyites’, The Disreputable Guru-worshipping sets of Bengal” and ‘the Minor guru-worshipping sects of Bengal’. Ibid, p. 366.

[17] Vasudha Dalmia, The Nationalisation of Hindu Traditions: Bharatendu Harishchandra and Nineteenth century Benaras, Delhi, OUP.1997.

[18] ‘Shrabandadwasivrata’, Gauranga Sevaka, Vol.2, No.1, 1912, pp.61-70. Also see ‘Vaishnavasmritir Alochanabhabe Birambana’, SVS, Vol.2, pp.86-87.

[19] Bhaktikusum Sraman Maharaj, Prabhupad Srila Saraswati Thakur, Mayapur: Sri Chaitanya Math, 2nd edition 482 Gaurabda (1968), pp.54-55.

[20] Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, Sachitra Srisrinabadwip Panjika, Gaudiya Printing Works, Calcutta, Chaitanyabda 442 (1928).

[21] Gautam Bhadra, ‘Pictures in Celestial and Worldly Time: Illustrations in Nineteenth-Century Bengali Almanacs’, in Partha Chatterjee, New Cultural Histories of India: Materiality and Practices’, New Delhi, OUP, 2014.

[22] ‘Sampradaya Pranali’, Sajjantoshani, vol.4, no.4, 1893, pp.61-63.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Hugh Urban has stressed on the Kartabhaja discourses as being laced with the imagery of the marketplace. It seems that Kedarnath also participated in the process around the same time span.

[25] ‘adhunik kapurushdiger prajatne yadi sampradaya duribhuta hoy, taha hoile ar mangal kothay?’, see ‘Sampradaya Pranali’, Sajjantoshani, vol.4, no.4, 1893,  pp.61-63.

[26] Nrisinghaprasad Thakur ‘Dikshar Pramanya’, GS vol.I, 1911, pp.233-242.

[27] Varuni Bhatia, op.cit., pp.283-291.

[28] ‘Goswamidiger sambandhe abda nirnay’, Sajjantoshani, Vol.2, no.2, Feb. 1885, pp.25-27.

[29] For evidences of the Birth Anniversary celebration of 1885 see ‘Mahaprabhur Janmadin’, Sajjantoshani, vol. 2, no.2, Feb.1885, p.27.

[30] ‘Sripat Panihatite Sri Sri Gaurangadeber Agaman Upalakshe smaran Mahotsav’, GS, Vol. 4, No.8, 1914, pp.454-458.

[31] Haridas, ‘Nabadwiper Dhulot’, Sri Gauranga Sebak, vol.2,1911, pp.119-127.

[32] Murarilal Adhikari, Vaishnava Digdarshini, pp.157-158. He also went on to publish a number of religious manuals such as Vaishnava Dharmer Suksha-Tattwa, Prachyatattwa Samalochana, Diksha Vichar, Diksha Mantra Rahasya and Sri Namer Mahima Advertisements of these books were mentioned in the Priyanath Nandi, ‘SriSri Krishna Chaitanya Tattwa Pracharini Sabha’r sanshipta Itihas’, in PSSP.

[33] Priyanath Nandi, ‘SriSri Krishna Chaitanya Tattwa Pracharini Sabha’r sanshipta Itihas’, in PSSP, p.70. All references to the KCTPS have been taken from this work unless otherwise stated.

[34] ‘Srikrishnachaitanyatattwa Pracharini Sabha’, Sri Vaishnava Sevika (samajik Patrika), Vol. I, No.3 & 4, 1911, p.96.

[35] Educated at Pabna district school he succeeded to the zamindari estate in 1882 after the death of his father Banowarilal Ray. Due to his preference for Vaishnava patronage he was granted the title of ‘Rajarshi’ by the Pandit mandali of Nabadwip. From 1893 onwards he lived at Radhakunja in Mathura where he established a huge Vishnu Temple. During the last days of his life he moved to Brindaban. See Sengupta & Basu eds. SBC, p.324.

[36]  For an insight into the politics of petitioning in colonial India see Majid Siddiqui, The British Historical Context and Petitioning in Colonial India, Delhi, Aakar Books, 2005.

[37] For details on these byabasthapatras see the section entitled ‘Sri Sri Krishna Chaitanya Tatwa Pracharini Sabha’r sankshipta Itihas’ in Priyanath Nandi, PSSP, pp.69-94 and Appendix.

[38] These were published under the Heading ‘Sri SriKrishnaChaitanyatattwa Pracharini Sabha’ with the sub-heading ‘Vaishnava-samaj sanskar’, SVS, Vol.1, no.3 & 4, Magh and Falgun 1911, p.96.

[39] PSSP, appendix, p.4.

[40] Thus, it was stated that twenty thousand bills on ‘Reform of Vaishnava Society’ was printed out of the funds contributed by a thread trader of Calcutta named Ganeshdas Khetri in memory of his deceased mother. PSSP , appendix, p.4.

[41]The SKCTPS gathered opinions of ‘pure’ (shuddha) Vaishnavas of different places to pass judgments to the effect that ‘due to the absence of proper preceptors numerous ineligible persons have been initiated into Vaishnavism and this has polluted the community. So it is the responsibility of every Vaishnava to try and root out this terrible menace from the community. It is for propagating this reform that this byabasthapatra is being circulated.’ PSSP , p.71.

[42] This document was later summarized by Nandi to form the tract ‘Reform of Vaishnava society’. See P.Nandi, ‘Vaishnava samaj sanskar’, PSSP , appendix, pp.1-2.

[43] Ibid., pp.1-2.

[44] Ibid., p.2.

[45] This rhetoric of suppression of marginal practices was paralleled among Bengali Muslims in their agitation against the Bauls from the last quarter of the nineteenth century. With the rise of the Faraizi and the Muhammadiya reform movements a regular tirade was set in motion against the heterodoxy of the ‘Fakirs’ and ‘Bauls’ though tracts like ‘Bhanda Fakir’ (‘Fake Fakirs’) and ‘Baul Dhwangsha Fatwa’ (‘Mandate for destruction of Bauls’). See Rajat Kanta Ray ed. Mind, Body and Society: Life and Mentality in Colonial Bengal, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995, pp.22-23; and Jeanne Oppenshaw, op.cit, p.25.

[46] ‘Dharma o Tirtha Sanskar’, ibid., appendix, p.2.

[47] ‘Dharma o Tirtha Sanskar’, ibid., appendix, p.4.

[48] PSSP , pp.90-94.

[49] Nandi, ibid.

[50] See Chintamani Chattopadhyay, ‘Debottar Sampatti’, Tattwabodhini Patrika , no.616, Agrahayan 1816 Saka (1894), pp.128-130.

[51] PSSP, Appendix, p.1.

[52] ‘Sri Baishnaber Smaraniya Tithi’, GS, vol.16, no.1, 1334 (1927), pp.52-53. and Vol.16, No.2, pp118-119.

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