Chaitanya and the Evolving Shades of Devotion in Pada Kirtan


  • Anwesha Ray Basanti Devi College, India


Devotion, Bakhti, Chaitanya, Pada Kirtan, Vaishnavism


This article endeavours to explore how the implication of Bhakti, or devotion (which is the basic premise of Vaishnavism) has evolved in relation to the change in the depiction of Radha and Krishna’s relationship in its enactment or performance, i.e. Kirtan from pre-Chaitanya to post-Chaitanya era. Chaitanya instrumentalised the ushering in of Bhakti cult in Bengal (sixteenth century A.D.) to protect the marginalised section of the society from the oppression of the orthodox Brahmins and the tyrannical proselytizing moves of the Muslim rulers of Turkish origin reigning in Bengal. Chaitanya revised the ancient Vaishnava tantra that already existed in Bengal and brought it under the canon of Bhakti which seemingly altered the concept of devotion in the Vaishnava order. In the process, Chaitanya emerged as a hero among his followers who initiated the worship of Chaitanya. Thus, in this context, the credo of devotion was redirected to a hagiographic alley that challenged the earlier democratic fervour prominent in the sect.


Chaitanya’s conceptualization of ‘Radha-Bhava-Dyuti’ and ‘Prembhakti’ impacted the depiction of Radha and Krishna in Kirtans. Radha’s positionality shifted from being an enamoured woman expressing her carnal passion, and the prototype of the female entity of Nature to an abstract representation; a term denoting a certain ‘bhava’ (feeling) of lovelornness. The notion of devotion altered from the equal surrender in their organic, transcendental union (based on the sexo-yogic philosophy of tantra) to a relationship of subservience and lordship. The visceral, erotic love lore of Radha-Krishna was subjected to erasure and replaced by absolute submission to the will of the Almighty to satisfy the conservative outlook of the mass followers towards religion.

This article aims for pragmatic approach to the chronological changes in the historical factors, the philosophical concepts and its evidencing body of performative literature that occurred parallel to one another. The fact that the implication of devotion has changed over time and that Vaishnavism has acted as a counter-current to mainstream religious wave in Bengal which can be derived from the study of its complexities.

Author Biography

Anwesha Ray, Basanti Devi College, India

Anwesha Ray is a lecturer at the Post Graduate Section of the Department of English in Basanti Devi College (affiliated to the University of Calcutta), Kolkata, India. She has completed M.A. in English Literature from St. Xavier’s University, Kolkata, India in the year 2019. Her areas of research interest include South Asian Cultural Studies, Religious Studies, and Performance Studies.


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