Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda
Bhaktivinoda, Kedarnath Datta,
Born September 2, 1838, Birnagar, Bengal — died June 18, 1914, Calcutta. Vaishnava theologian, songwriter and religious leader.
Born of a wealthy family of landowners in 1838, Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda grew up in a traditional Hindu household of rural Bengal. He lived in his maternal grandfather’s home in the village of Birnagar (Ula) 60 miles (100 Km) north of Calcutta. There he received a village education. By age 14 he left rural Bengal and moved to Calcutta with his maternal uncle Kashi Prasad Ghosh (1809–1873) a famous patriot, author and newspaper man. Bhaktivinoda continued his education at Hindu College in Calcutta where he became an associate of such noteworthy men as Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, his college teacher and lifelong friend; Keshub Chandra Sen, a classmate; Michael Madhusudan Datta, a literary associate; Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, a civil service colleague and eminent novelist; and Sisir Kumar Ghosh, a prominent newspaper publisher in Bengal.
At Hindu College Bhaktivinoda received a Western education and was exposed to the influences of European culture. During this time he became influenced by American Unitarianism through the efforts of Charles Dall. Bhaktivinoda’s presentation of Caitanya Vaishavism shows the influence of such American Unitarians as Theodore Parker (1810–1860). By age 18 he left the ferment of modern Calcutta and moved to rural Orissa to stay with his paternal grandfather, Raj Vallabha Datta. Moving through various low-paying teaching jobs in rural Orissa and Bengal he eventually acquired a government job with the British in the Judicial Service. For the next 25 years he worked as a career civil servant in the Judicial Service where he worked himself up to the position of District Magistrate. During his working years he fathered fourteen children. He retired from government service in 1892. Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda passed away in Calcutta on June 23, 1914 at age 75.
At age 29 Bhaktivinoda became a follower of Caitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1533), and eventually a leader within the Caitanya Vaishnava movement in Bengal. The title Bhaktivinoda was conferred on Kedarnath Datta in 1886 in recognition of his prominence as a Vaishnava theologian. Bhaktivinoda made a lifelong study of Vaishnava philosophy, theology, and literature. He edited and published over 100 books on Vaishnavism. Some of his major works include five theological works: Krishna-samhita (1880), Caitanya-sikshamrita (1886) Jaiva-dharma (1893), Hari-nama-cintamani (1900), Tattva-sutra (1893) and Tattva-viveka (1893) and four books of Vaishnava songs: Kalyana-kalpa-taru (1881)¸ Aranagati (1893), Gitavali (1893) and Gita-mala(1893). Bhaktivinoda also published a monthly journal entitled Sajjana-toshani between the years 1886 and 1910. He also produced an autobiography entitled Svalikhita Jîvani (1896).
As early as 1880 he sent copies of his works to Ralph Waldo Emerson in American and Reihost Rost in Europe in attempt to export the teaching of Caitanya to the West. By 1896 some of Bhaktivinoda’s English writing turned up in Canada, Britain and Australia. During his later years Bhaktivinoda conducted a preaching program called Nama-hatta that traveled from town and village throughout rural and urban Bengal spreading the theology of Caitanya. He was also responsible for building a prominent temple at the site of Caitanya’s birth at Navadveep.
Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda is representative of an important group of Bengali intellectuals, the so-called bhadraloka that lived during the Bengal Renaissance. The incursion of European education and culture forced many educated Bengalis to face the traumas of modernization that challenged many traditional Hindu beliefs and practices. As a result, many of the bhadraloka, including Michael Madhusudan Datta (1824–1873) and Krishna Mohan Bannerjee, became Christians. Others such as Keshab Chandra Sen (1838–1884) and Protap Mazumdar (1840–1905) become members of the Brahma Samaj. Still others like Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (1838–1894) found the means to reinterpret their Hindu religious traditions in the light of nineteenth century European thought.
Bhaktivinoda’s spiritual insights divide religion into two constituent parts–-the phenomenal and the transcendent. This allowed him to combine modern critical analysis with the best of Hindu mysticism, Krishna-lila. Instead of relinquishing the modern approach, he utilized it in his writings; instead of rejecting Hindu tradition, he strengthened it.
Bhaktivinoda’s particular synthesis of traditional Hindu belief and nineteenth century rational thought is a particularly important religious and cultural blend. It spawned the development of the Gaudiya Math in India during the 1920s and 1930s and later, in the West, the development of the ISKCON (Hare Krishna) movement during the 1960s and 1970s. As a result Bhaktivinoda is credited as being the great-grandfather of Caitanya Vaishavism in the West.
Copyright © 2002 Sanskrit Religions Institute. All Rights Reserved.
Dasa, Shukavak N. (1999). Hindu Encounter with Modernity, Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda Vaishnava Theologian. Los Angeles: SriPublications.
Dasa, Shukavak N. (1998). Svalikhita Jivani Los Angeles: SriPublications.
For an in-depth look at Bhaktivinoda’s life and theology: Hindu Encounter with Modernity
Hindu Encounter with Modernity
An in-depth look at Kedarnath Datta’s life and theology.
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The Bhagavata: Its Philosophy, Ethics and Theology
This is the text of the famous Dinajpur speech given by Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda in 1868. It is one of the few extant samples of English writing that came from the pen of Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda.
An article written by Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda about the Vaishnava initiation process.