Defiled and deified: profane and sacred bodies in Caitanya Vaisnava theology


  • Måns Broo Åbo Akademi University


Body, Human, Hinduism, Vaishnavism, Hindu theology, Devotion, Bhakti, Culture and religion -- India, Chaitanya, 1486-1534, Kr̥ṣṇa (Hindu deity), Hindu literature, Kr̥ṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmi, b 1518, Bengal, Purity, Ritual


It is well known that there is no dearth of stereotypes when it comes to religion and the body. Christianity is a body-negative religion, Judaism is body-positive, ascetic practices automatically lead to a negative view of the body, and Eastern religions are more positive towards the body than Christianity. Such truisms are of little value. Still, they are voiced often enough to warrant occasional replies. In this article one instance is highlighted, from within the Hindu tradition, that offers an interesting take on how the conception of the body may vary greatly within one and the same religious tradition. Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism, also known as Bengali or Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, is the devotional movement of Kṛṣṇa-bhakti begun by Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya (1486–1533) in Bengal, India. Kṛṣṇadāsa’s work may be used as an entrance into the theology of Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism. What, then, does Kṛṣṇadāsa have to say about the body? The body may be anything, from an obstacle to divine service, to its instrument, both in this life and the next. It is also an object of worship—in fact, by far most of the instances of words in Sanskrit or Bengali indicating body in the texts of Kṛṣṇadāsa refer to the forms of Caitanya and Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, that are described with loving, painstaking detail. The differences between these types of bodies may or may not be apparent to an outsider, and indeed, the body need not be physical at all. This example from the Hindu tradition, highlights some of the complexities inherent in terms such as ‘the body’, or ‘body-negative spirituality’.



How to Cite

Broo, M. (2011). Defiled and deified: profane and sacred bodies in Caitanya Vaisnava theology. Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, 23, 72–78.