Gaudiya Vaishnavas and Muslim Invaders (From RISA)

Joshua Greene (Hofstra University)
There is a theory that the Gaudiyas "went underground" in the post-Caitanya period, to avoid persecution by Muslim invaders. This idea would explain the reclusive nature of the community in the 16th and 17th centuries. I believe both David Haberman and Alan Entwistle have posited this idea. Does anyone have access to their writings on the subject.

John Stratton Hawley (Professor and Chair, Department of Religion, Barnard College, Columbia University)

I'd be very grateful to you for tracing out this "theory"--who says this? The very most important Gaudiya texts were produced in this period of time, evidently very publicly, and some of the most influential among them were produced by gentlemen who were apparently recruited by Chaitanya because of the expertise they brought to their tasks in part from having served in "Muslim" courts--Rupa and Sanatana. Furthermore, Akbar's patronage (with more than a little assistance from Mansingh--and plenty of intermarriage) was evidently responsible for the flourishing of Gaudiya Vaishnava institutions in Vrindaban beginning in the 16th century. All very much out there in public.

"Invaders?" From where? If that would be the Mughals, they were in fact the imperial sponsors of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas.

So who is propounding this myth, please? I don't believe it's David Haberman or Alan Entwistle. I'd be very grateful for further information: what should I be reading to tune in on this interpretation of history? I don't mean to whitewash--deities were certainly buried and removed from Braj in response to perceived threats in the 17th century--but that was quite a time after Chaitanya and only part of a much more complex picture.

Steve Rosen (Journal of Vaishnava Studies)
I believe Joshua is referring to the theory that raganuga sadhana, or the inner practice of lila-smaranam, seemed to come to the fore when Vaishnavas deemed it necessary to practice somewhat covertly. External circumstances may have contributed to the more subdued practice of that era, or so the theory goes. As opposed to the demonstrative practice of Hari-nama sankirtana, manjari sadhana does make its appearance in the period that Joshua writes about in his initial posting. It is quite possible that this is what he is referring to by Vaishnavas going "underground." Yes?

Jack Hawley

Norvin Hein proposed something like this some time ago, but I wonder what the historical evidence would actually be. Certainly lila-smarana was a major feature of Rupa's system, and that was written while he basked in the support of the Mughal state. How would the transformations in the doctrine of manjari-sadhana that one can see reflected in the works of Jiva--with Krisna and Radha as its dual object, and sometimes even with preference for a gaze directed toward Radha--reflect any sort of interiorization that could be tied to Muslims? Jiva died in 1618, and the great temple of Govindadeva was inaugurated two decades earlier, in 1590. In 1568 Akbar issued a firman in favor of Jiva, specifically recognizing him as the person in charge of the temple of Govindadeva. In 1598 that patronage of the temple of Govindadeva (now evidently a second temple, newly completed in 1590) was allowed to stand independent of any specific human beneficiary; it became, thus, in principle, perpetual. I sure don't sense any hint of secrecy here--or any need for it.

The late seventeenth century may have been a different thing. The building of a third temple of Govindadeva after the Jat rebellion against Aurangzeb in 1669 and desecrations in Vrindaban, (re)located Govindadev in Radhakund, where Radha-sadhana must have been strong all along. Thus, until further instructed, I'd certainly resist a narrative that pictures interiorized Gauriya Vaishnava sadhana as a response to anything Muslim. Wouldn't you agree?

Steve Rosen

Greetings, Jack -- I don't know if we are getting at Joshua's initial question, but here goes . . .

Yes, I see your point -- and I certainly agree with it -- but I would hasten to add that while manjari-sadhana and its concomitant lila-smarana are clearly there in the works of Rupa and the other Goswamins, these ideas had to wait for precisely the 17th century and the works of Narottama Dasa, for example (see David Haberman's "Shrines of the Mind"), to become a more common practice among Gaudiyas in general. Thus, your "late seventeenth century may have been a different thing" comes into play.

Along these lines, Joshua might want to look at Kaviraja Goswamin's Govinda-lilamrta, or, later, Visvanatha Cakravartin's Sri-krsna-bhavanamrtam or his Raga-vartma-candrika, or Dhyanacandra's padhati, or Manjari-svarupa-nirupana -- these are all works from the period Joshua seems to have in mind, and they might point to evidence for his theory.

Jack Hawley

But if I'm not mistaken Narottamadasa's dates can't carry him beyond the middle of the 17th century at the very latest; Prabhudayal Mital apparently thinks he died in 1611. So he seems to have worked and thought in a time when the Gaudiyas enjoyed extensive patronage from the Mughal throne and from the rajas with whom they were closely connected. I can't see how any overall frame of Muslim invasion / Hindu interior retreat can fit.

Shandip Saha, Research Associate, Dept. Classics and Religious Studies, University of Ottawa.

Hein brought this up I think in his contribution to the Divine Consort volume that Jack and Donna Wulff co-edited. Jack can corroborate that since I don't have easy access to my book collection at the moment. David did mention a smiliar theory briefly in his book, Acting as a Way of Salvation. Neither, however, are advocating the Muslim invader theory.

A similar theory is posed in general when dealing religious/cultural life in general during the reign of Aurangzeb. Given his conservative religious leanings, it has been suggested that he was actively enforcing a policy to stamp out public disiplay of arts and all things non-Islamic in his eyes.

Thus, for example, in the Punjab, the enforcement of this alleged cultural policy nearly killed the cultural life of the Punjab until Varis Shah is said to have rejuvenated it with his retelling of the Hir-Ranjha story popularly known today as 'Hir' (or Heer as it is popularly transliterated).

The 'underground/retreat theory' has been also put forth by members (at least those who I have talked to)of the Vallabha Sampradaya who claim that their practice of devotional music was also driven underground during Aurangzeb's reign and afterwards flourished and developed privately away from the public eye.

The theory you are investigating is founded the assumption that Hindus were oppressed by Muslim invaders during the medieval period, but there is evidence from the Sultanate period onwards to indicate quite to the contrary.

Hindus were an integral part of the administrative structure of these regimes and religious communities and Islamic and non-Islamic groups could enjoy Mughal patronage if they could meet the requirements set down by the government to be designated as a tax-exempt charitible institution (read Ain-i-Akbari).

Mughals would target a religious community if it was considered a political threat. Jahangir spoke quite warmly and fondly in his memoirs (Tuzurk-i-Jahangiri) about his close association with the Vaishnavite Tantrik, Jadurup, and also briefly records his visit to Govindadeva. He then later calls Guru Arjan the 'devil of Goindval' because of the popular support Arjan was enjoying in the Punjab countryside.

Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi, meanwhile, was jailed for a year by Jahangir on the grounds that he was mentally instable because Sirhindi was aggressively promoting a program of Islamic imperialism in the subcontinent.

One could say the same for the Sikhs and Marathas during Aurangzeb's reign. The religious views of these groups were irrelevant. What mattered was that they were chipping away at his power base and systematically draining his financial resouces with expensive battle campaigns that Aurangzeb sought to finance through his reintroduction of the Jiyza (a good twenty into his reign).

Jack is right in concluding that the historical evidence about the Gaudiya Sampradaya doesn't support the theory very well. Communities like the Gaudiya Sampradya and the Vallabha Sampradaya both benefitted enormously from Mughal patronage and its hard to see someone like Jiva Goswami as going underground when we do have some surviving land grants where he describes himself as a humble, lowly brahmin who is petitioning the Emperor for ownership to a tract of land.

In the case of the VS, the need to retreat from Muslim invaders seems quite at odd with the fact that rival religious heads within the community were suing each other in Mughal civil court over custody of images and jewelry in the 17th century.

Religious communities were extremely good at networking in the Mughal period to sustain thsemselves either by attaching themselves to the court in Delhi or ny developing alternative patronage networks (baniyas for the Vallabha Sampradaya or building grassroots rural support in the case of the Sikhs). This points to their dependence on patronage for their survival and how the fates of Hindu and non-Hindu religious communities were intimately tied to the changing socio-political and economic circumstances in which they lived.

Communities like the GS and VS may have 'retreated' in the 17th century, but it was not because they were persecuted reilgious minorities. It was because political and economic instability made it difficult for them to live peacefully to do so.

I would love to hear more about what you can find on this topic. It's an important one that deserves lots of thorough consideration.

Joshua Greene

Thank you for taking the time to provide detailed replies to both my original inquiry and also to Steve's addenda.

I've been looking for references to a theory that until now are only rumored to exist. It's too early to draw conclusions, although my thesis has a direction, namely to examine the implications of "seeing Krsna everywhere" for Vaishnavas today. What may have been adequate at a time when the Gaudiyas were just getting started is not, from this perspective, necessarily what the tradition is supposed to accomplish now.

O'Connell wrote an interesting article in JVS (5.1) titled "Does the Chaitanya Vaishnava Movement Reinforce or Resist Hindu Communal Politics?" but it is based primarily on discussions with practitioners about current events and concludes with recommendations for future research rather than a position on what the tradition says regarding devotion through social engagement.

Steve Rosen

I think I found something in Haberman's Acting as a Way of Salvation that hits the nail on the head:

"Hindu scripture makes it clear that there are problems for any Hindu living in a social system that fails to reflect Hindu dharma. Yet that is exactly what many Hindus at the beginning of the sixteenth century were forced to do. . . . O'Connell convincingly argues that an impasse in medieval Bengal between the Muslims and Hindus was solved by a devaluation of the sociopolitical world by the Hindus. . . . Soon after meeting Caitanya, Rupa was sent by him to Vrindavana to devise and establish a means, a sadhana, that would lead those interested away from an increasingly meaningless sociopolitical world and closer to the ideal mythological world expressed in the Puranas -- a world which transcended that controlled by the Muslims. In effect, a process of "resocialization" was required by the early Gaudiya Vaisnavas. . . . Thus, a method was needed to open a way into the transcendent world. The Raganuga Bhakti Sadhana, first systematically presented by Rupa Gosvamin, was the answer." (pp. 44-45)

I think this is the sort of thing that Joshua was initially alluding to. I have seen this same point, slightly restated by numerous scholars, over the years -- does anyone know other sources that sing along these lines?

Jack Hawley

I don't want to repeat; I'll try to be brief. If Haberman's is the correct picture, the "world which transcended that controlled by the Muslims" was (before long, at least) explicitly blessed and supported by "the Muslims"--or more correctly, by the Mughal throne and the Hindu Rajputs who worked at and in relation to that court. I can't see that the new arrangement envisioned between the centers of temporal power and the new center of religious authority being constructed in Braj was very different from the duniya/vilayat model that customarily designated the distance from court to khanqah in contemporary Islamic discourse. In saying so, I don't mean to minimize the effect of major political struggles in the first half of the sixteenth century. But by the time of Jiva's generation, certainly, imperial Mughal patronage for Braj Vaishnavism was secure.

I've copied this to David Haberman, in hopes he will weigh in from the Mysterious East. On the pages you quote, Steve, he concedes that the historical status of many of the sources he quotes to depict the moment of Rupa and Sanatan's departure form the court of Hussain Shah is doubtful. As we know, remembered history does not always tally with events "as they occurred."

Tim Cahill, Loyola University

> The theory you are investigating is founded the assumption that Hindus were oppressed by Muslim invaders during the medieval period, but there is evidence from the Sultanate period onwards to indicate quite to the contrary.

Two contributors to the scholarship in this vein are Tarapada Mukerjee and Irfan Habib. Their joint article on this topic might help those who'd like to document the point Hawley and Saha have separately made:

"The Mughal Administration and the Temples of Vrindavan During the Reigns of Jahangir and Shahjahan" in Proceedings - Indian History Congress (1989), pp. 287-300.

They also collaborated on a paper treating Akbar's patronage of temples in the Mathura region. Habib's book *Agrarian System of Mughal India* (1963) contains some useful data on this topic as well.

I think Jack and Shandip make a good case that the evidence doesn't support an interpretation that Islam *drove* Vaishnava religiosity underground. However, a case could be made that Rupa and others chose to develop a theological basis for an interiorized sadhana during this period for other reasons. Shandip's remark, “Communities like the GS and VS may have 'retreated' in the 17th century, but it was not because they were persecuted religious minorities. It was because political and economic instability made it difficult for them to live peacefully ...” offers another interpretation, although this isn't quite in line with the tenor of his earlier remarks. (I'd be more inclined to assume that Mughal patronage of various sorts contributed to the *stability* of these institutions.) Whatever theological interpretation accounts for the new sadhana, events on the ground are pretty well documented, as Jack points out.


Prem Prakash said…
I know I am late to this party, but it is a fascinating discussion. Thank you.

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