Kiyokazu Okita, Kyoto University

Singing in Protest:
Early Modern Hindu-Muslim Encounters in Bengali Hagiographies of Caitanya

Inaugurated by Caitanya at the beginning of the sixteenth century, Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, also known as Bengali Vaiṣṇavism, quickly became an influential devotional movement in North India, Bengal, and Orissa. Given its formation and development in the early modern period, the movement’s engagement with Islam naturally comes into question. Strangely, this topic is almost entirely ignored in the Sanskrit materials of the tradition written between the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. However, when we turn our gaze to vernacular sources, we find vivid descriptions of Hindu-Muslim encounters that this movement witnessed.

In this paper, I examine and compare two Hindu-Muslim encounters as described in two prominent Bengali hagiographies of Caitanya, namely the Caitanya Bhāgavata by Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura and the Caitanya Caritāmṛta by Kṛṣṇa Dāsa Kavirāja. The first incident is a meeting between Haridāsa, a converted Vaiṣṇava, and the Muslim ruler of Muluka. The king asks why Haridāsa chants Kṛṣṇa’s name even though he was born as a Muslim. In the second incident, Caitanya organizes a massive protest against a local Muslim judge’s prohibition on congregational chanting (saṅkārtana).

Kṛṣṇa Dāsa’s Caitanya Caritāmṛta was based on Vṛndāvana Dāsa’s Caitanya Bhāgavata. However, Kṛṣṇa Dāsa does not elaborate on the first incident. As for the second incident, he gives a very different description. Vṛndāvana Dāsa’s earlier account is noticeably more violent. I argue that these differences are partly due to the different political environments in which the two authors operated. While Vṛndāvana Dāsa wrote in Bengal in the pre-Mughal period, Kṛṣṇa Dāsa wrote in Vṛndāvana during the Mughal rule. By situating these two incidents within the broader political context of sixteenth century Bengal and North India, I shall argue that the Mughal polity’s emergence played a decisive role in how Hindu-Muslim relations were perceived in the early modern period.

Kiyokazu Okita, Hakubi Center for Advanced Research, Kyoto University. Kiyokazu Okita is currently an assistant professor at the Hakubi Center for Advanced Research, Kyoto University. He is also a research follow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, University of Oxford. He obtained his D.Phil. from the Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford in 2011. His doctoral thesis focuses on Vaiṣṇava Vedānta in Early Modern North India. Based on his thesis, he published a monograph titled Hindu Theology in Early Modern South Asia (Oxford University Press, 2014).

After teaching at the Department of Religion, University of Florida (2010-2011), he was a JSPS postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Indological Studies, Kyoto University (2011-2013) as well as a visiting research fellow at the Department of Indian and Tibetan Studies, University of Hamburg (2012-2013). In his current project God as Paramour: Ethic and Aesthetic in Early Modern South Asia, Kiyokazu examines a complex relation between bhakti, rasa and dharma in the Bengal Vaiṣṇava tradition. Together with Dr. Rembert Lutjeharms at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, Kiyokazu also leads an international collaborative research project The Gosvāmī Era: The Founding of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism in Early Modern South Asia. Deriving from his expertise in medieval and early modern Hinduism, he has published articles and book reviews in Indo-Iranian Journal, International Journal of Hindu Studies, Journal of Vaishnava Studies, Journal of Indological Studies, Journal of Hindu Studies, Religions of South Asia and so on. He has also written book chapters in edited volumes including Bhakti beyond Forest (ed. by Imre Bangha, Manohar, 2013), Introduction to Caitanya Vaiṣṇava Philosophy (ed. by Ravi Gupta, Ashgate, 2014), and Adaptive Reuse in South Asian Literatures and Arts (ed. by Elisa Freschi and Philipp Maas, Harrassowitz Verlag, forthcoming).