The Chaitanya Charitamrita is one of the primary biographies detailing the life and teachings of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1534), a Vaisnava saint and founder of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Sampradaya. It was written by Krishna Das Kaviraja (b. 1496), primarily in the Bengali language, but also including a great number of Sanskrit verses within its devotional, poetic construction, including Siksastakam. Intertwined with the stories of Caitanya Mahaprabhu's life are philosophical conversations detailing the process of Bhakti yoga, with special attention given to congregational chanting of Krishna's names and the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra.
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The Chaitanya Caritamrta is divided into three sections: the Adi-lila, Madhya-lila and Antya-lila. Each section refers to a particular phase in Shri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's life:
The Adi-lila explains Caitanya's unique theological identity as an Avatar of Krishna in the mood of Radharani (a combined avatar of both personalities), his personal lineage, his closest childhood companions and their paramparas (disciplic succession), and the characters of his devotional associates. This section ends with a brief summary of Caitanya's life up to his acceptance of sannyasa (the renounced order of life).
The Madhya-lila details Caitanya Mahaprabhu's sannyasa pastimes; the life of Madhavendra Puri; a philosophical conversation with the Advaitin scholar Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya (wherein the supremacy of bhakti is promoted by Mahaprabhu against the arguments of impersonal advaita); Caitanya’s pilgrimage to South India; examples of the daily and annual activities of Caitanya and his devotees during the Ratha-yatra festival of Jagannatha near the Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha; their observance of other festivities; and his detailed instructions on the process of Bhakti Yoga to both Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami.
Although the author, Krishna Dasa Kaviraja, never met Chaitanya Mahaprabhu personally, his guru Raghunatha dasa Goswami (1494–1586 CE) was an associate of Chaitanya and was close to others who were intimates of his. In composing his work, Krishna Dasa Kaviraja also referred to the shrIkr^ShNachaitanyacharaNAmr^ta of Murari Gupta and also the works of Swarupa Damodara, both of whom knew Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Krishna Dasa Kaviraja composed the Chaitanya Charitamrita in his old age after being requested by the Vaishnavas of Vrindavana to write a hagiography about the life of Chaitanya. Although there was already a biography written by Vrindavana Dasa, called the Chaitanya Bhagavata, the later years of Chaitanya’s life were not detailed in that work. Krishna Dasa’s Chaitanya Charitamrita covers Chaitanya’s later years and also explains in detail the rasa philosophy that Chaitanya and his followers expounded. The Chaitanya Charitamrita also serves as a compendium of Gaudiya Vaishnava practices and outlines the Gaudiya theology developed by the Goswamis in metaphysics, ontology and aesthetics.
The Chaitanya Charitamrita was frequently copied and widely circulated amongst the Vaishnava communities of Bengal and Odisha during the early 17th Century. Its popularity during this period can be attributed to the propagation of three Vaishnava preachers called Narottama Dasa, Shyamananda and Srinivasa who were trained by Jiva Goswami and Krishna Dasa Kaviraja himself.
In the 1970s Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s disciple A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder acharya of ISKCON (also known as the Hare Krishna movement), popularised the Caitanya Caritamrta in the West. He published a deluxe 17-volume English edition of the work through his Bhaktivedanta Book Trust with his own commentary based upon the Amrita Pravaha and Anubhasya commentaries of Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. This edition has been distributed in mass quantities worldwide and is the best-known and most influential English-language edition of Caitanya Caritamrta today.