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
grandfathers 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 (18091873)
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
American Unitarianism through the efforts of Charles Dall. Bhaktivinodas
presentation of Caitanya Vaishavism shows the influence of such American Unitarians
as Theodore Parker (18101860). 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 (14861533),
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
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 Bhaktivinodas 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 Caitanyas 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 (18241873) and Krishna Mohan Bannerjee, became Christians. Others
such as Keshab Chandra Sen (18381884) and Protap Mazumdar (18401905)
become members of the Brahma Samaj. Still others like Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda
and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (18381894) found the means to reinterpret
their Hindu religious traditions in the light of nineteenth century European
Bhaktivinoda's spiritual insights divide religion into two constituent
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.
Bhaktivinodas 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.
Shukavak N. Dasa
Copyright © 2002 Sanskrit
Religions Institute. All Rights Reserved.
Dasa, Shukavak N. (1999). Hindu Encounter
with Modernity, Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda Vaishnava Theologian. Los
Dasa, Shukavak N. (1998). Svalikhita Jivani Los
For an in-depth look at Bhaktivinoda's
life and theology: Hindu
Encounter with Modernity
Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda
The Bengal Renaissance
Michael Madhusudan Datta
Encounter with Modernity
An in-depth look at Kedarnath Datta's life and theology.
must have the
Acrobat Reader to download and read pdf files.
Datta's Family History
One of Kedarnath Datta's Autobiography
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