Chakra Discussions

Hindu Encounter with Modernity

Reposted by popular request,
July 7, 2003

Hindu Encounter with Modernity:
Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda, Vaisnava Theologian

By Shukavak N. Dasa - Foreword by Thomas J. Hopkins
ISBN 1-889756-30-X

This is an excellent book, and particularly relevant in light of many of today's discussions on literalism vs. contextualism.

Thakur Bhaktivinoda's life straddled contemporary British society and ancestral Hindu culture. One was a modern, analytical world which demanded rational thought. The other was a traditional world of Hindu faith and piety, which seemingly allowed little room for critical analysis. Could he play a meaningful role in modern society and at the same time maintain integrity as a Hindu? This book systematically examines his reinterpretation and application of Hinduism in the context of rational thought.

In this well-researched, comprehensive, and objective study, Dr. Shukavak begins with a discussion of the "crisis of faith" many Hindus experienced during British rule in India. This is followed by a biographic narration of the life of Kedarnath Datta, concentrating primarily on his devotional development and struggle with the problems of tradition and modernity. Shukavak identifies the inner logic of Bhaktivinoda's approach as it points backward to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and the Goswamis, and forward to the challenges of rationalism and universalism.

Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda (1838-1914) was an English-educated member of the Bengali bhadralok in 19th century British India. He was an associate of such noteworthy men as Kashiprasad Ghosh, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Keshub Chandra Sen, Michael Madhusudan Datta, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Sisir Kumar Ghosh and the Tagore family.

In his late twenties he discovered his "Eastern Savior", Caitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1533) and became a leader of the Caitanya Vaishnava movement in Bengal. He made a lifelong study of Vaishnava philosophy, theology, and literature; and he wrote or edited almost a hundred books in Bengali, Sanskrit and English.

Bhaktivinoda's spiritual insights -- which divide religion into two constituent parts, the phenomenal and the transcendent -- allowed him to combine critical, rational analysis with the best of Hindu mysticism, Krishna-lila. This created a unique synthesis of tradition and modernity. Instead of relinquishing modernity, he utilized it in his writings; instead of rejecting the Hindu tradition in the presence of rational thought, he strengthened it.

This is the first scholarly biography and exposition written in English on the life and thought of Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda. Bhaktivinoda is presented from the perspective of his own times and in his own words. His writings, theology, and religious practices are thoroughly and systematically examined from a nonhagiographic viewpoint and the entire work is carefully annotated.

This book results from twelve years of original research involving three trips to England and Bengal. Government archives, Bengali villages and individual homes were searched for information pertaining to Kedarnath Datta's life. This study relied particularly upon three formerly untranslated sources of information: Bhaktivinoda's autobiography (Svalikhita-jivani), Bhaktivinoda's Sri Krishna-samhita, a theological work, and his journal Sajjana-tosani.

The book has received many favorable reviews from scholars and is available from SRI Publications, 275 Green Oaks Dr., Riverside, CA 92507. The price is $24.95 (US) plus $3 shipping.

© CHAKRA 19-Mar-2000