During the first quarter of the seventeenth century, Nābhādās-a sadhu, or monk, associated with the Galtāmonastery near present-day Jaipur-imagined a new kind of religious community.1 He composed a text known as the Bhaktamāl, or “Garland of Devotees,”2 a slender collection of biographical stanzas in which Nābhādās weaves together terse words of praise for hundreds of bhaktas.3 He selects individuals and groups for inclusion, reflecting a community that spans boundaries of sampradāy or sect,4 region, caste, and gender. This community also exceeds temporal boundaries: Nābhādās includes his contemporaries as well as bhaktas whose lives are recorded in the Purāṇas and other ancient sources. He presents a community, united in bhakti, which remains rooted in the monastic order even as it transcends particular sectarian affiliations as well as time itself. In the Bhaktamāl, it is through the narration of the lives of exemplary individuals

that the religious community is constituted. Nābhādās imagines the past, through these narrated lives, in order to construct a community in the present. In so doing, he establishes a location for debates over the constitution of this community.5 Most of the bhaktas praised by Nābhādās are drawn from the recent past, but he connects these historical figures to previous, mythological ages. In so doing, he frames an argument that legitimizes bhakti through its divine origins in the ancient past. Nābhādās presents the sampradāy as central to his bhakti-oriented community. It is through the institutional structure of the sampradāy, defined by loyalty to one’s guru, that authority is passed down through the guru-śiśya paramparā, or preceptor-disciple tradition, rooted in the mythological past. It is the sampradāy that carries bhakti across the ages from its divine origins to the compromised present, but Nābhādās’ vision of bhakti does not limit itself to the walls of the monastery. His community explicitly includes multiple sampradāys, which are each granted divine origins, as well as bhaktas who seem to be independent of any sampradāy. Nābhādās’ vision was, and is, powerful and provocative. With its focus on the

nature and boundaries of the community and its constitution in the present, the text has had a continuing salience in a larger religious world. Approximately a century after the Bhaktamāl’s composition, a Gaud: īya Vaishnava living in Vrindaban named Priyādās would simultaneously elaborate upon and critique Nābhādās’

vision. Priyādās commented upon Nābhādās’ mūl, or root, text in an expansive and enormously influential work entitled the Bhaktirasabodhinī, “The Awakening of the Essence of Bhakti.”6 In this commentary, Priyādās selectively explains and extrapolates from the verses of the Bhaktamāl. Nābhādās’ economical use of language renders such a commentary, in either written or oral form, necessary and almost inevitable. This is so much the case that subsequent manuscripts and print editions of the Bhaktamāl usually include this commentary, and the combined text is often referred to simply as the Bhaktamāl.7