Chaitanya Charitamrita

The Chaitanya Charitamrita is one of the primary biographies detailing the life and teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1533), a prominent Vaishnava saint, and founder of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. It was written by Krishna Das Kaviraja (b1496), primarily in the Bengali language, but also including a great number of Sanskrit verses within its devotional, poetic construction. Intertwined with the stories of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's life are philosophical conversations detailing the process of Bhakti Yoga, with special attention given to the public chanting of Krishna's names and the Hare Krishna mantra. It is revered as a sacred text by followers of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.


The Chaitanya Charitamrita is divided into three sections: the Adi-lila, Madhya-lila and Antya-lila. Each section refers to a particular phase in Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's life:


The Adi-lila explains Chaitanya's unique theological identity as an avatar of Krishna in the mood of Radharani (a combined avatar of both personalities), his personal lineage, his closest childhood companions and their paramparas (religious heritage), and the characters of his devotional associates. This section ends with a brief summary of Chaitanya's life up to his acceptance of sannyasa (the renounced order of life).


The Madhya-lila details Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's sannyasa pastimes; the life of Madhavendra Puri; a philosophical conversion with the Advaitin scholar Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya (wherein the supremacy of bhakti is promoted by Mahaprabhu against the arguments of impersonal advaita); Chaitanya’s pilgrimage to South India; examples of the daily and annual activities of Chaitanya and his devotees during the Ratha-yatra festival of Jagannatha near the Jagannath Temple in Puri, Orissa; their observance of other festivities; and his detailed instructions on the process of Bhakti Yoga to both Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami.


The Antya-lila gives a survey of the devotional plays composed by Rupa Goswami, activities of various devotees and occasional critics and their interactions with Chaitanya; Chaitanya’s interactions with Raghunatha dasa Goswami, and Jagadananda; Chaitanya's increasing experience of the searing agony of separation from Krishna (viraha or vipralambha bhava) and concludes with the famous Siksastaka (eight instructions) written by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu himself.

Composition of the Chaitanya Charitamrita

Although the author, Krishna Dasa Kaviraja, never met Chaitanya personally, his guru Raghunatha dasa Goswami (14941586 CE) was an associate of Chaitanya and was close to others who were intimates of his. In composing his work, Krishna Dasa Kaviraja also referred to the diaries of Murari Gupta and Swarupa Damodara, both of whom were personal friends of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

Krishna Dasa Kaviraja composed the Chaitanya Charitamrita in his old age after being requested by the Vaishnavas of Vrindavana to write a hagiography about the life of Chaitanya. Although there was already a biography written by Vrindavana Dasa, called the Chaitanya Bhagavata, the later years of Chaitanya’s life were not detailed in that work. Krishna Dasa’s Chaitanya Charitamrta covers Chaitanya’s later years and also explains in detail the rasa philosophy that Chaitanya and his followers expounded. The Chaitanya Charitamrta also serves as a compendium of Gaudiya Vaishnava practices and outlines the Gaudiya theology developed by the Goswamis in metaphysics, ontology and aesthetics.

The Chaitanya Charitamrta was frequently copied and widely circulated amongst the Vaishnava communities of Bengal and Orissa during the early 17th Century. Its popularity during this period can be attributed to the propagation of three Vaishnava preachers called Narottama Dasa, Shyamananda and Srinivasa who were trained by Jiva Goswami and Krishna Dasa Kaviraja himself. However, during the 18th Century, copies of the Chaitanya Charitamrita became rare. In his autobiography, Kedarnatha Dutta Bhaktivinoda writes that for many years he found it difficult to procure a copy of the book. Upon finally finding a copy of the Charitamrita, Bhaktivinoda reprinted it along with his Amrita Pravaha commentary. After his passing, his son Bimala Prasada (later to become known as Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati) printed the Chaitanya Charitamrita en masse. He also wrote his Anubhasya commentary to this book.

Modern publication

In the 1970’s Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s disciple A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada published a deluxe 17-volume English edition of the work through the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust with his own commentary based upon the Amrita Pravaha and Anubhasya commentaries of Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. This edition has been distributed in mass quantities worldwide and is arguably the best-known and most influential English-language edition of Chaitanya Charitamrita today.


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