Center for South Asian Studies (CSAS)
Time: 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Location: Room 1636 School of Social Work BLDG 1080 S. University Ave
Late nineteenth century Bengal witnessed a sudden and curious spurt in educated Bengalis’ interest in the life and teachings of a late medieval Bengali mystic and devotee, Chaitanya (1485-1533). Partly as a response to critiques mounted by Christian missionaries and reformed Hindu organizations such as the Brahmo Samaj and partly as the result of a concentrated efforts to recover an authentic volk towards forging an organic notion of self, Chaitanya and Chaitanyite devotion emerged briefly, but significantly, as a key cornerstone of a Bengali search for self-identity. This paper explores the dialogic processes of loss and recovery and their systematic deployment by late colonial reformers and public intellectuals in Bengal. It will examine the broad flows and contours of the recovery of the figure of Chaitanya as well as Bengali devotional traditions over sites as varied as literature, theology, sacred biography, sacred spaces, and performative traditions such as kirtan. I argue that roughly between the period 1870 and 1900, Chaitanya’s representation as an icon of an organically constituted and historically rooted Bengaliness was closely related to forging a modern religious and national subject.