Vaishnava-Sahajiya is a form of tantric Vaishnavism that centred in Bengal, India. It had precursors from the 14th century, but originated in its definitive form in the 16th century. Vaishnava-Sahajiya is generally considered as a 'left-hand path' (Sanskrit: vāmācāra) and apostate (Sanskrit: apasampradaya; see Sampradaya) from the "orthodox" or vedic standpoint, though followers claim that this view stems from a superficial understanding. There are both right-handed and left-handed Vaishnava-Sahajiyas Dakshinachara may be rendered into English as "right (Dakshina) (path to) attainment (chara)", while Vamachara may be rendered into English as "left (vama) (path to) attainment (chara)". The Dakshinacharyas ("Right Attainers") are the ones that practice the Panchamakara ('Five Ms') symbolically or through substitutions, whilst the Vamacharyas ("Left Attainers") are the ones that practice it literally.
Shashibhusan Dasgupta (1946, 1962: p. 131) holds that there are two hundred and fifty "manuscripts of small texts" in the Calcutta University which are associated with the Sahajiya, and that there is a comparable number of manuscripts held in common with Calcutta University in the library of the Bangīya-sāhitya-pariṣad. Wendy Doniger (1989: p.xxii) in the Forward to Dimock (1989) affirms that The Asiatic Society in Calcutta holds a large collection of manuscripts and also states that "...the number of manuscripts in private libraries is indefinite but almost certainly huge."
Poets of the Vaiṣṇava Sahajiyā school
Shashibhusan Dasgupta (1976: p. 114) to his third edition (1969) reprint (1976) of his seminal text on five sahaja traditions entitled Obscure Religious Cults first published in 1946, holds that:
"The lyrics belonging to the Vaiṣṇava Sahajiyā school are generally ascribed to the well-known poet Caṇḍidāsa and to some other poets like Vidyāpati, Rūpa, Sanātana, Vṛndāvana-dāsa, Kṛṣṇa-dāsa Kavirāja, Narahari, Narottama, Locana, Caitanya-dāsa and others, and the innumerable Sahajiyā texts are also ascribed to their authorship."
Caṇḍidāsa (Bengali: চন্ডীদাস; born 1408 CE) refers to (possibly more than one) medieval poet of Bengal. Over 1250 poems related to the love of Radha and Krishna in Bengali with the bhanita of Chandidas are found with three different sobriquets along with his name, Baḍu, Dvija and Dina as well as without any sobriquet also. It is not clear whether these bhanitas actually refer to the same person or not. It is assumed by some modern scholars that the poems which are current in the name of Chandidas are actually the works of at least four different Chandidas, who are distinguished from each other by their sobriquets found in the bhanitas. It is also assumed that the earliest of them was Ananta Baḍu Chandidas, who has been more or less identified as a historical figure born in the 14th century in Birbhum district of the present-day West Bengal state and wrote the lyrical Srikrishna Kirtan (Songs in praise of Krishna).
A sahajiya poem of Vidyāpati (1352? - 1448?) is rendered into English by David R. Kinsley (1975: p. 48-49) thus:
- As I near the bed,
- He smiles and gazes.
- Flower-arrows fill the world.
- The sport of love,
- Its glow and luxuries
- Are indescribable, O friend,
- And when I yield myself,
- His joy is endless.
- Freeing my skirt,
- He snatches at my garland.
- My downcast mind
- Is freed of frontiers,
- Though my life is held
- In the net of his love.
- He drinks my lips.
- With heart so thrilled,
- He take my clothes away.
- I lose my body
- At his touch
- And long to check
- But grant his love.
- Says Vidyāpati:
- Sweet as honey
- Is the talk of a girl in love.
The Vaishnava-Sahajiya sought religious experience through the five senses which included human coupling and sexual love. Sahaja (Sanskrit: “easy” or “natural”) as a system of worship was prevalent in the Tantric traditions common to both Hinduism and Buddhism in Bengal as early as the 8th–9th centuries. "Sahaja" was evident in the teachings and poetry of Mahasiddha Saraha (c.8th century CE, Bengal, Nalanda).
The tradition used the romance between Krishna and Radha as a metaphor for union with God, and sought to experience that union through its physical reenactment. It teaches that the ideal way to understand the union of humanity is to transcend the profane aspects of sexual intercourse and experience it as a divine act.
The Vaisnava-Sahajiya creed is a synthesis of these various traditions. The Vaisnava-Sahajiyas operated in secrecy because their sexual tantric practices were viewed with marked disdain by other religious communities. In their literature they adopted an enigmatic style employing substitutions and correspondences that has come to be known as twilight language (Sanskrit: saṃdhyā-bhāṣā). Little is known about their prevalence or practices.
The cult was centered in Bengal. It began in the 16th century, although predecessors existed as early as the 8th century in the same city. The founder is generally thought to be Baru Chandidas, who lived in the 14th century. In order to avoid unwanted attention, the group spoke of its activities in cryptic language.
Members of this lineage enacted the 'group in a round' Ganachakra (Sanskrit) or circle dance now known as the Rasa-lila of Krishna. It is a mystery religion rite, wherein the followers participated in a rite of communion, trance possession, and nondifference or nonduality with 'deity' (Sanskrit: ishtadevata).
- Dasgupta, Shashibhusan (1946, 1962 revised). Obscure Religious Cults as a Background to Bengali Literature. NB: First edition entitled: Obscure religious cults as background of Bengali literature Calcutta : Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay, p.131.
- Dimock, Edward C., Jr. (1966, 1989). "The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaisnava-Sahajiya cult of Bengal". NB: 1989 with a Foreword by Wendy Doniger (June, 1989). University of Chicago Press.
- Dasgupta, Shashibhusan (1946, 1969 third edition, 1976 reprint). Obscure Religious Cults. Firma KLM Private Limited: Calcutta, India. Sarasvati Printing Press, p.114.
- Kinsley, David R. (1975). The sword and the flute: Kālī and Kṛṣṇa, dark visions of the terrible and the sublime in Hindu mythology. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-02675-6, ISBN 978-0-520-02675-9. Source:  (accessed: January 16, 2011)
- Source:  (accessed: Monday July 9, 2007)
- Dimock, Edward C., Jr. "The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaisnava-Sahajiya cult of Bengal", University of Chicago Press, 1966.
- Tripurari, Swami, Sahajiya & Rasika, Sanga, 1999.
- Dasgupta, Shashibhusan (1946, 1962 revised). Obscure Religious Cults as a Background to Bengali Literature. NB: First edition entitled: Obscure religious cults as background of Bengali literature Calcutta : Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay.
- Basu, M. M. (1932). The Post-Caitanya Sahajiya Cult of Bengal. Calcutta: Univ. of Calcutta Press.
- Hayes, Glen Alexander (2000). "The Necklace of Immortality: A Seventeenth-Century Vaisnava Sahajiya Text." In Tantra in Practice. Edited by David Gordon White. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.