Bornc. 1516
Charanat near Varanasi, India
Diedc. 1588
EraAncient philosophy
RegionIndian philosophy
SchoolHindu philosophy, Shuddhadvaita, Pushtimarg, Vedanta

Vitthala-natha or Vitthalanath (IAST: Viṭṭhalanātha, c. 1516–1588), popularly known as Gusainji, was an Indian philosopher. He was the younger son of Vallabhacharya, who founded the Pushtimarg religious sect of Hinduism.


Apart from Vitthalanatha, his other names include Vitthaleshvara (IAST: Viṭṭhaleśvara), Vitthala Dikshita, or Agnikumara.[1] In addition, he is known by the title Gosvami (Gosain-ji or Gusain-ji).[2]

Early life

Vitthalanatha was born around 1516 (between 1515 and 1518[2]), as the second son of the religious scholar Vallabha.[1]

His devotees consider him an incarnation of the god Vithoba (Vitthal) of Pandharpur.[2] He was brought up by Vallabha till the age of 15, and after that, by Vallabha's disciple Damodara-dasa.[1]

He was proficient in the Vedas, the Brahma Sutra, and the Mimansa philosophy. He studied nyaya at Navadvipa.[2]

Religious activities

In 1540, the Gauḍiyas (Bengalis) were expelled from the Śrī Nāthajī temple by followers of the Puṣṭimārga. In consolation Viṭṭhalanātha gave them the image of Madanmohan which they took to Vrindaban. To replace them Viṭṭhalanātha hired Sanchora Brahmins from Gujarat to perform the worship of Śrī Nāthajī.[3][4]

After the death of his father Vallabhācārya (c. 1530), Viṭṭhalanātha's elder brother Gopinātha became the leader of the sect. However, when Gopinātha died in 1542 with his son Puruṣottama still a minor, Viṭṭhalanātha emerged as the main leader of the religious sect established by his father. Six years later he faced a challenge by Puruṣottam and his family, who was backed by Kr̥ṣṇadāsa Adhikāri, the first temple manager of the Śrī Nāthajī Temple.[5][6]

Kr̥ṣṇadāsa often had controversial relationships with women, and once allowed a wealthy kṣatriya woman named Gaṅgābāī Kṣatrānī to be present during the private offerings of food to Śrī Nāthajī. This was ritually prohibited and Viṭṭhalanātha banned the woman from the temple premises. However, in retaliation Kr̥ṣṇadās had Viṭṭhalanātha banned from the temple for a period that would last six months. Rāmdās Cauhān was a supporter of Viṭṭhalanātha, and daily brought him caraṇāmr̥ta, garlands, and messages for Śrī Nāthajī. Viṭṭhalanātha's eldest son Giridhara then petitioned with local Mughal authorities (specifically identified as Bīrbal) who had Kr̥ṣṇadāsa arrested. However, Viṭṭhalanātha demanded that Kr̥ṣṇadāsa be released, and the two reconciled with Viṭṭhalanātha being reinstated as the head of the sect and Kr̥ṣṇadāsa as temple manager. Puruṣottam would later die at a young age. This account is found in the vārta of Kr̥ṣṇadās, and it is unlikely that Bīrbal himself took part in these events, and that these events likely took place c. 1548–1549.[5]

From 1543 through 1581, Viṭṭhalanāṭha went on six fundraising tours that had a primary focus on Gujarat, visiting the cities of Dvarka, Surat, Khambat, Ahmedabad, and Godhra. He was successful in converting large portions of Gujarati merchants (Lohanas, Bhatias, Banias), agriculturalists (Kanbis), and artisans.[7][8]

Viṭṭhalanātha was successful in securing royal and political patronage, such as with Rānī Durgāvatī, who arranged his second marriage and gifted him land and the Satghara mansion in Mathura.[9] According to sectarian sources he also initiated Askaran, the ruler of Narwar.[10]

After moving to Gokul, he was also successful in Mughal patronage. In 1577, a grant was issued in the name of the emperor Akbar that Viṭṭhalnātha and his family would be exempt from tax and that his land in Gokul would be protected by the state. In 1581, grant was issued that allowed Puṣṭi Mārga cows to roam freely through Gokul, including state property and Mughal noble's estates. In 1581, another grant was issued in the name of Hamida Begum that Puṣṭi Mārga cows could roam freely throughout the entirety of Braj. In 1588 Bahadur Khan issued a grant affirming the same right, as well as detailing that the cows could not be harassed by Mughal officials for herding or tax purposes. In return for the imperial Mughal patronage, the Puṣṭi Mārga was required to pray for the continual welfare of the Mughal Empire. According to sectarian literature, Viṭṭhalanātha met Akbar in Braj, and gifted a diamond which was then embedded into the chin of Śrī Nathajī, as well as initiating Akbar's wife Taj Bibi. These two claims are unattested outside of sectarian literature, which seek to show Viṭṭhalanātha's spiritual authority as greater than the worldly power of Akbar.[11] In 1593 he was granted a firmān confirming his purchase of tax-free land in Jatipura, where he built gardens, worshops, cowsheds, and buildings for the worship of Śrī Nāthajī. The same year another grant was issued stating his lands in Gokul and Guzar Ghat were tax-exempt in perpetuity. However, according to Saha these grants were issued to Viṭṭhalanātha's grandson Viṭṭhalarāya.[12][13]

Vitthalanatha propagated the teachings of his father and established a religious centre at Gokul.[2]

Viṭṭhalanāṭha lived at his father's house in Adail, and later moved to Braj during the reign of Akbar and lived in Satghara.[14]

Viṭṭhalanātha expanded the rituals of the Puṣṭi Mārga by transforming the simple rituals of his father's time into a complex, aesthetically pleasing ritual experience. In his time, he reformed the sevā to recreate the daily routine of Kr̥ṣṇa, in which he was offered expensive clothing, jewelry, perfumes, and sumptuous meals. The art of paintings and poetry were also added to rituals in order to enhance their appeal.[15]

Viṭṭhalanātha had eleven children. He had six sons from his first wife, and one son from his second, among whom he distributed nine major svarūpas of Kr̥ṣṇa that were worshipped by the Puṣṭimārga. Each son founded a lineage that served as leaders of the sampradays. Listed are the sons of Viṭṭhalanātha and their svarūpas.[16][17][18]

  1. Giridhara, whose descendants hold Śrī Nāthajī, Śrī Navanītapriyajī, and Śrī Mathureśajī
  2. Govindarāya, whose descendants hold Śrī Viṭṭhalanāthajī
  3. Bālakr̥ṣṇa, who descendants hold Śrī Dvārakānāthajī
  4. Gokulanātha, whose descendants hold Śrī Gokulanāthajī
  5. Raghunātha, whose descendants hold Śrī Gokulacandramājī
  6. Yadunātha, whose descendants hold Śrī Bālakr̥ṣṇajī and Śrī Mukundarāyajī
  7. Ghanaśyāma, whose descendants hold Śrī Madanamohanajī
  8. Tulasīdāsa aka Lālajī, whose descendants hold Śrī Gopināthajī[note 1]

Literary works

The texts and commentaries attributed to Vitthala include:[2][19]


  1. ^ Tulasīdāsa was an adopted son of Viṭṭhalanātha, and the svarūpa in his descendants' possession is of less significance than the other svarūpas.


  1. ^ a b c G. V. Devasthali 1977, p. x.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Roshen Dalal 2014, p. 1375.
  3. ^ Saha 2004, p. 120, 135.
  4. ^ Entwistle 1987, p. 153.
  5. ^ a b Saha 2004, p. 119, 134-138.
  6. ^ Barz 1992, p. 235-248.
  7. ^ Saha 2004, p. 120-122.
  8. ^ Toomey, Paul Michael (1994). Food from the Mouth of Krishna: Feasts and Festivals in a North Indian Pilgrimage Centre. Hindustan Publishing Corporation. p. 41.
  9. ^ Saha 2004, p. 121-122.
  10. ^ Entwistle 1987, p. 162.
  11. ^ Saha 2004, p. 122-125.
  12. ^ Entwistle 1987, p. 161.
  13. ^ Saha 2004, p. 128.
  14. ^ Entwistle 1987, p. 154.
  15. ^ Saha 2004, p. 126.
  16. ^ Barz, Richard (1992) [First edition 1976]. The Bhakti Sect of Vallabhācārya (3rd ed.). Munshiram Manoharlal. pp. 54–55.
  17. ^ Saha 2004, p. 122.
  18. ^ Entwistle 1987, p. 162-163.
  19. ^ B. K. Bhatt 1980, p. 154.