The Mughal Influence on Vaisnavism, Part 33

BY: SUN STAFF - 14.3 2019


Galta Temple and Tank

A serial presentation of the Mughal effect on Vaisnava society.

In an excellent article from the Jan/Feb 1991 issue of Back to Godhead magazine, Sriman Nayana-ranjana das wrote an article entitled "Baladeva Vidyabhusana, The Gaudiya Vedantist". The author describes the life and pastimes of our Sampradaya Acarya, Baladeva Vidyabhusana, and the events leading up to his presentation of the Sri Govinda Bhasya to the Ramanandi scholars. The article also provides some interesting historical background for the Ramanandi's presence in Galta:

The Gaudiyas in Vrndavana

"Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami accomplished Lord Caitanya's mission in Vrndavana. Not only did they rebuild the sacred places of Krsna's life, but they also wrote books that presented Lord Caitanya's doctrine in a way suitable for both scholars and laymen. Srila Jiva Gosvami, their nephew and disciple, continued their work. He supervised the construction of magnificent temples for the worship of Krsna, wrote exhaustive philosophical treatises on the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, and distributed the religious manuscripts of the Vrndavana Gosvamis throughout the Vaisnava world. Largely due to Jiva Gosvami's efforts, the Gaudiya Vaisnavas succeeded in establishing Vrndavana as the principal seat of Vaisnavism in northern India. Vrndavana had always been a holy pilgrimage site, but under Gaudiya patronage it flourished as a powerful religious centre for 150 years. Gaudiya gurus and temples held sway in Vrndavana, even at the time of Baladeva's arrival in the early eighteenth century.

Govinda Leaves Vrndavana

Unfortunately, the peaceful leadership of the Gaudiyas could not last. In 1669 the Mogul ruler Aurangzeb decreed that Hindu temples and carved images, or Deities, should be destroyed. Deities, priests, and pilgrims were in danger, and faithful devotees of Krsna stopped visiting Vrndavana. Many of those who had the courage to express their faith were beaten or killed. Subsequently, the Vaisnava priests appealed to the Hindu dynasties of Rajasthan for protection for themselves and their Deities. Protection was guaranteed, and gradually the Deities migrated east, to settle in Mewar and in Amber, the old Jaipur capital. But wi thout Deities, brahmanas, and pilgrims, Vrndavana-Mathura lost much of its glory.

One of the principal Deities of Vrndavana was Govinda, a twenty-four-inch black marble image of Krsna in His original aspect as a cowherd boy. Srila Rupa Gosvami had found Him while excavating the holy places of Vrndavana. Later, warned that Aurangzeb's army would seek to demolish Govinda's splendid seven-story temple, the priests secretly moved the Deity to Radha-kunda, a sacred pond widely known as one of the holiest places in the Mathura district. After a year at Radha-kunda, the priests transferred their divine refugee to Kaman, a fortified city in the Mathura district, where a suitable complex could be built for Govinda. For more than thirty years He and two other Deities, Gopinatha and Madana-Mohana, remained in Kaman. But most pilgrims avoided the area because of danger from the ruling Moguls and a clan of people called the Jats, who had risen up against the Moguls.

The Rajput kings of Amber found themselves at the pivot of the conflict between the Moguls and the Jat guerrillas. The kings allied themselves with the Moguls against the Jats but patronised the Vrndavana Deities, whom the Moguls wanted to destroy.

Ram Singh, the king of Amber, had ordered in 1671 that Govinda be transferred to Kaman, which was then under the jurisdiction of Amber and Jaipur although it was in the Mathura district. It is said that the transfer was meant to be temporary: the Deity would return to Vrndavana when the political turmoil subsided. But Govinda did not return to Vrndavana. After thirty-three years in Kaman, He made another trip, this time to Amber.

The Ramanandis' Challenge

Govinda's new home had little in common with the forest of Vrndavana, where He had lived so grandly. In Vrndavana, a Vaisnava holy place, Govinda was the unchallenged Supreme Lord. His priest, who stood in the direct line of Rupa Gosvami, the acknowledged leader of the Vaisnavas in Vrndavana, had enjoyed unchallenged authority on questions about the philosophy and practice of bhakti, devotional service to Krsna.

In Amber, however, not all the Vaisnavas worshiped Krsna. During the reign of Prthviraj Singh (1503-1527), a devotee of Lord Ramacandra named Payahari Krsnadasa had settled in Galta, a valley near the present day city of Jaipur. Payahari was a grand-disciple of Ramananda, the fourteenth century North Indian reformer of the South Indian sampradaya (lineage) of Ramanuja. Payahari worshiped Sita-Rama, not Radha-Krsna.

Payahari had settled in a cave in the Galta Valley. He had converted Queen Balan Bai to Ramanandi Vaisnavism, and she in turn had convinced her saintly husband, King Prthviraj, to sponsor the establishment of a Ramanandi monastery in Galta. Thereafter, Galta had become the northern headquarters for the Ramanuja sect.

For six generations the Ramanandi mahantas (temple heads) had enjoyed a privileged position in the Amber kingdom. But Govinda's arrival in Amber and His popularity with the royal family challenged the Ramanandi hegemony.

To Jai Singh the arrival of Govinda was especially significant. Despite the presence of so many Hindu sects in his kingdom, despite his own royal obligations to maintain Vedic and Puranic ritual sacrifices, and despite the unchallengeable authority of the Ramanandi priests, Jai Singh was ultimately a devotee of Govinda. The arrival of Govinda in his kingdom was a high point in his personal spiritual quest.

The Ramanandi priests soon realised that if Govinda became the favoured Deity of the king, the Gaudiya priests would assume religious authority in Amber. What would become of the Ramanandis' ascendancy?

The Ramanandis then approached Jai Singh with a complaint about the Gaudiyas. They questioned the Gaudiya lineage. In India, much is made of one's parentage. If one cannot prove natal legitimacy, one may be cast out as a bastard. The same social standard applies to religious organisations. If a religious group can not prove its descent from one of the recognised traditions, it risks being dismissed as illegitimate.

Jai Singh wrote to the mahanta of the Gopinatha temple, Syamcaran Sarma, asking him to clarify the matter by explaining the lineage of the Gaudiya devotees. Syamcaran replied with a letter in Sanskrit, quoting various scriptures and other authorities. He explained that the Gaudiya lineage had begun with Lord Caitanya, who was the Supreme Godhead. After all, a spiritual lineage originating with God is unassailable.

Predictably, the Ramanandis were not satisfied. They said, "There are only four sampradayas, not five. Scholars have ascertained this on the basis of the Padma Purana.'"

Read the complete article here

The article goes on to describe the life of Baladeva Vidyabhusana, and how he prepared himself for the great philosophical challenge it was arranged that he should confront in Galta. In the context of the Mughal influence on Vaisnavism, we are particularly interested in exploring how the thread of Akbar's influence might have traveled. Starting with the emperor's intervention with the Shaivite nagas of Thaneswar, Akbar's influence expanded into the broader Shankarite community as he employed various political strategies to take advantage of their strong presence in India. But did that influence spread from the Shankarites to the Ramanujacarya camp, then to the Ramanandis, who interfaced with our own Sampradaya Acarya, Baladeva Vidyabhusana? It is that line of inquiry we will continue to follow when the series resumes next week.

Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana