Beyond Avatāras: The Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Taxonomy of Kṛṣṇa’s Divine Forms

How to Cite

Barbara A. Holdrege. (2022). Beyond Avatāras: The Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Taxonomy of Kṛṣṇa’s Divine Forms: Journal of Vaishnava Studies. Journal of Vaishnava Studies, 26(1), 49–87. Retrieved from


The early Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava authorities in the sixteenth century celebrate the deity Kṛṣṇa as ananta-rūpa, “he who has endless forms,” his limitless forms encompassing and interweaving the various planes of existence. They articulate a robust discourse of divine embodiment that illustrates what I term the “principle of superordination.” Through this principle the early Gauḍīya authorities attenuate the challenges posed by competing bhakti traditions in the Indian religiocultural landscape by selectively appropriating and accommodating elements of those traditions’ teachings and integrating them into an encompassing hierarchical system that ultimately serves to domesticate and subordinate the competition. This principle of superordination can be seen operating in the Gauḍīya taxonomy that provides a hierarchical assessment of the multifarious divine forms of Kṛṣṇa and that serves as a means of accommodating and subordinating the contending notions of divinity promulgated by rival Vaiṣṇava and Śaiva bhakti movements

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