Friday, July 24, 2015

On the social commitment of the Gaudiya Movement and death of Sri Chaitanya: Khoj the Search

"The assertion of Brahminical dominance in a religious movement that was rooted in mysticism, and which was anti-caste and anti-intellectual, inevitably led to the growth of deviant orders. If a Brahmin guru tried to initiate persons belonging to castes lower than the Shudra caste, the motive behind such initiation was questioned and the orthodox elements gave him the bad name of a Sahajiya and expelled him from the Gaudiya Vaishnava order."

Liberal Bengali social historians have long lamented the transformation of Bengal Vaishnavism from an egalitarian movement that broke through caste barriers as epitomized by Nityananda, to one that returned to the Brahminical domination as a result of the Sanskrit writings of the Goswamis, such as the Hari-bhakti-vilasa. According to Hitesranjan Sanyal, “The Goswamis of Vrindavan derived their spiritual inspiration from Chaitanya, but did not seem to have the strong social commitment of the Master.”(note 14) Some cynics even argue that Advaita Acharya appropriated the mystic Chaitanya to restore Brahminical influence over a disintegrating Hindu society. The Brahmin Vaishnavas made some cosmetic adjustments to their social doctrine, as powerful elites are wont to do. Some concessions had to be made  to the lower castes and these concessions were made, but real control of the movement remained in the hands of the Brahmins. The fact that over 75% of Chaitanya’s associates were Brahmins may be taken as evidence.(note 15) Whatever advances the lower castes made in Chaitanya’s movement, the general feeling is that it simply preserved the status quo. But the mechanism for social and spiritual relief to the underprivileged and oppressed sections of society developed by the Gaudiya Vaishnavas was overlaid with orthodox ritualism which suppressed the remnants of the spirit of freedom in respect of actual social action. In effect, the dichotomy of Gaudiya Vaishnavism became an effective medium for diffusing social tension growing from the rise of people from the lowest strata into importance and thus for maintaining the status quo.