Reconstructing Tradition: Advaita Ācārya and Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism at the Cusp of the Twentieth Century

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Columbia University Press, 2005 - Literary Criticism - 305 pages
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Advaita Acarya was one of the leading figures in the genesis of the Bengali Vaisnava movement in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Though crucial to the movement's origins, Advaita's standing among subsequent generations of Bengali Vaisnavas began to fade, only to be reestablished once again during the nineteenth century. In her groundbreaking study, Rebecca Manring examines the ways in which Advaita's followers used his life story to define, preserve, and reconstruct a political and religious movement. Manring's illuminating and detailed readings of Middle Bengali and Sanskrit texts reveal the evolving hagiographical traditions concerning Advaita. Her work also presents new perspectives on theological issues within the Bengali Vaisnava tradition, the role of sacred biography, and the religious history of South Asia. Advaita rose to prominence as the older teacher and right-hand man to Caitanya, the founder of the Vaisnava movement. As a Brahman, Advaita also helped the movement gain acceptance among the religious establishment. However, his school and its promotion of conservative brahman values began to lose adherents in the next generation as other, less tradition-bound groups came to the fore. In the late nineteenth century his followers reasserted their place in Bengali Vaisnavism by demonstrating, through their hagiographies, that they alone represented Caitanya's, and hence Advaita's, original vision and that they alone had kept it untainted despite the potential for contamination from external forces. Manring analyzes how members of Advaita's school used established imagery and techniques to sustain their claim for the religious superiority of an individual andrecreated themselves in light of the changing political and social contexts of nineteenth-century Bengal.
 

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Contents

THE BIRTH OF AN IMAGE
17
A NEW IMMINENCE
44
NONHAGIOGRAPHICAL TEXTS TREATING ADVAITA ACARYA 76
103
ANOTHER BLACK FORGERY OR MERE PLAY?
128
GATEWAY TO THE FUTURE
193
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About the author (2005)

Rebecca Manring is assistant professor of India studies and religious studies at Indiana University. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

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