As we begin to celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of the appearance of Sri Krishna Chaitanya (in March 1986), many people who have never heard the name Chaitanya (and perhaps even some who have never heard the name Krishna) will ask, “Who is Krishna Chaitanya, and what is His significance?”
If we turn to academic sources for an answer, we will find considerable historical data. A New History of India, by Stanley Wolpert, states, “In Bengal the most popular of all bhakti Hindu preachers was the teacher Chaitanya.” In History of Indian Philosophy, the respected Surendranath Dasgupta writes, “The religious life of Chaitanya unfolds unique psychological symptoms of devotion which are perhaps unparalleled in … history… .”
From the historical records about Lord Chaitanya, we certainly see a picture of a God-conscious saint who appeared in India during the sixteenth century. But we have to seek further—into the devotional Vedic literature—to understand the full, spiritual significance of Lord Chaitanya and the bhakti movement that He inaugurated.
We should consult the biographies of Lord Chaitanya, especially the Chaitanya-bhagavata, by Vrindavana dasa Thakura, and the Chaitanya-charitamrita, by Krishnadasa Kaviraja. Both of these works were compiled in the sixteenth century and are filled with first-hand accounts of Lord Chaitanya’s acts and teachings. They also give us an accurate picture of the social and religious setting in which Lord Chaitanya lived. The Chaitanya-charitamrita is especially valuable, because the author quotes extensively from the Sanskrit Vedic scriptures to authoritatively and logically establish the divinity of Lord Chaitanya.