Reevaluating The "epilepsy Narrative" Of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Visions from a Divine Realm... or the Nervous System?
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the Bhakti canon is known for his soul-rendering compositions and powerful religious teachings. He is also famous for his mysterious death.
Hindu traditions claim that Chaitanya met his end by rushing into the ocean to embrace a vision of Lord Krishna. Atheist sources say that he was murdered in the inner sanctum of the Jagannath Temple at Puri by an authoritarian priestly inquisition.
Others infer that he had epilepsy and, in 1534, he eventually succumbed to his seizures. Gaudiya Vaishnava literature majorly testifies to the latest theory. Chaitanya was prone to trances and fainting.
Filled with ecstatic love for Krishna, he would sometimes sing, dance, and weep uncontrollably. At other times, overwhelmed by devotion, he would experience seizures, fall unconscious to the ground, and foam at the mouth.
His breathing would cease and he would lie still until he gained consciousness. Most of his divine visions and prophecies are attributed to these episodes.
In fact, Srila Prabhupada's medieval biography, "Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta", sees Chaitanya explain to a troop of Pathan soldiers the ailment that haunts him.
The saint is depicted as saying: "Due to epilepsy, I sometimes fall unconscious." It is debatable whether epilepsy was 'self-diagnosed' so far back as a recognized brain disorder, but the popular association of Chaitanya with epilepsy lingers on.
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