It would not be inaccurate to say that Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita is one of the most important works of historical and philosophical literature ever written in any language. It is the principal work on the life and teaching of Sri Krishna Chaitanya, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself in human form.
It would not be inaccurate to say that Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita is one of the most important works of historical and philosophical literature ever written in any language. It is the principal work on the life and teaching of Sri Krishna Chaitanya, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself in human form. Sri Krishna Chaitanya is the pioneer of a great social and religious movement that began in India in the early sixteenth century and that directly and indirectly influenced the subsequent course of religious and philosophical thinking not only in India but throughout the world.
At a time when, in the West, man was directing his explorative spirit toward circumnavigating the world in search of new oceans and continents and toward studying the structure of the physical universe, Sri Krishna Chaitanya, in the East, was inaugurating and masterminding a revolution directed toward inward, toward a scientific understanding of the highest knowledge of man’s spiritual nature.
Within His lifetime, Sri Krishna Chaitanya transformed the face of India in four respects: philosophically, by encountering, defeating and converting the greatest philosophers and thinkers of His day; religiously, by organizing the largest, most widespread theistic movement in India’s history; socially, by His strong challenges against the religious inequities of the caste system; politically, by His organization of a massive civil disobedience movement in Bengal, more than four centuries before Gandhi.
The text is divided into three sections, called “lilas.” The Adi-lila traces Sri Krishna Chaitanya’s life from birth through His acceptance of the renounced order, sannyasa, at the age of twenty-four. This part includes His childhood miracles, schooling, marriage and early philosophical confrontations, as well as His organization of the widespread sankirtana movement and His civil disobedience against the repression of the Muslim government.
The Madhya-lila, the longest of the three sections, contains a detailed narration of Sri Krishna Chaitanya’s extensive and eventful travels throughout India as a renounced mendicant, teacher, spiritual preceptor and mystic. Finally, the Antya-lila concerns the last eighteen years of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s manifest presence, spent in semiseclusion in Jagannatha Puri, Orissa. During those years, Sri Krishna Chaitanya drifted deeper and deeper into trances of spiritual ecstasy unparalleled in all of religious and literary history, Eastern or Western.
Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, the author of Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita, was a great saint and confidential disciple of Raghunatha dasa Goswami, the renowned ascetic saint who was one of the most intimate disciples of Sri Krishna Chaitanya. Krishnadasa Kaviraja began work on the text at a very advanced age and in failing health, as he vividly describes in the text itself: “I have now become too old and disturbed by invalidity. While writing, my hands tremble. I cannot remember anything, nor can I see or hear properly. Still I write, and this is a great wonder.” That he completed the greatest literary gem of medieval India under such debilitating conditions is surely one of the wonders of literary history.
The English translation and commentary is the work of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the world’s most distinguished scholar and teacher of India religious and philosophical thought. He himself is a disciplic descendent of Sri Krishna Chaitanya, and his intimate familiarity with the percepts Chaitanya Mahaprabhu taught eminently qualifies him to present this important classic to the English-speaking world. The ease and clarity with which he expounds Sri Krishna Chaitanya’s teachings enable even a reader totally unfamiliar with the India religious tradition to understand and appreciate this profound and monumental work.
The entire text with commentary, presented in nine lavishly illustrated volumes by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, represents a contribution of major importance to the intellectual, cultural and spiritual life of contemporary man.