Caitanya sect

Caitanya sect

also spelled  Chaitanya 

      intensely emotional form of Hinduism that has flourished from the 16th century, mainly in Bengal and eastern Orissa, India. It takes its name from the medieval saint Caitanya (Chaitanya; 1485–1533), whose fervent devotion to Lord Krishna (Kṛṣṇa) inspired the movement. For Caitanya the legends of Krishna and his youthful beloved, Rādhā, were both symbolic of and the highest expressions of the mutual love between God and the human soul. bhakti (devotion) superseded all other forms of religious practice and was conceived as complete self-surrender to the divine will.

      The Caitanya movement had its beginnings in Navadvīpa (Bengal), the saint's birthplace. From the first, a favourite and characteristic form of worship was group singing known as klrtana. (kīrtana) This consisted of the singing of simple hymns and the repetition of God's name, accompanied by the sounding of a drum and cymbals and by a rhythmic swaying of the body that continued for several hours and usually resulted in states of religious exaltation.

      Caitanya was neither a theologian nor a writer, and organization of his followers was initially left up to his close companions, Nityānanda and Advaita. These three are called the three masters (prabhū), and their images are established in temples of the sect.

      A theology for the movement was worked out by a group of Caitanya's disciples who came to be known as the six gosvāmins (religious teachers; literally, “lords of cows”). At Caitanya's request, this group of scholars remained in Vṛndāvana, near Mathurā (Mathura), the scene of the Krishna-Rādhā legends. The six gosvāmins turned out a voluminous religious and devotional literature in Sanskrit, defining the tenets of the movement and its ritual practices. Their reestablishment of the pilgrimage sites of Vṛndāvana and Mathurā was an achievement of importance for all Vaiṣṇavas (devotees of Lord Vishnu [Viṣṇu]). Although Caitanya appears to have been worshipped as an incarnation of Krishna even during his lifetime, the theory of his dual incarnation, as Krishna and Rādhā in one body, was systematically developed only by the later Bengali hymnists.

      The present leaders of the sect, called gosvāmins, are (with some exceptions) the lineal descendants of Caitanya's early disciples and companions. The ascetics are known as vairāgins (the “dispassionate”).

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Universalium. 2010.

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