Caitanya Vaiṣṇavas in Bengal numbered several million by the early twentieth century. The large majority participated in the domestic and social affairs of their natal endogamous groups (jātis), i.e., ‘castes’ or ‘subcastes’, within the Brāhmaṇically ordered system of caste and stage of life (varṇāśrama-dharma) alongside other jāti members who might or might not share their Vaiṣṇava faith. A small number of Caitanya Vaiṣṇavas, ascetics usually called Vairāgīs, eschewed domestic and social affairs altogether, a common enough Hindu phenomenon. What makes the Caitanya Vaiṣṇava population in Bengal somewhat unusual in respect of social location of its members is the appearance of a third category of Vaiṣṇava. These persons generally claim to maintain domestic and social affairs within a quasi-endogamous group, but consider that group open to accretion by persons of any caste or no known caste. Moreover, they consider their jāti, which they simply call the ‘Vaiṣṇava jāti’, to be independent of and antithetical to the Brāhmaṇically ordered caste system. These ‘Jāti Vaiṣṇavas’, as they are called (alternatively ‘Jāti-gata Vaiṣṇava’, ‘Jāta Vaiṣṇavas’, ‘Jāta Baiṣṭamas’ etc.), numbered half a million persons early in the twentieth century. Thus they constitute an ambiguous, even anomalous, social phenomenon, what might be called a ‘subcaste without caste’, or in the more intelligible Indian terminology, a (Hindu) jāti (endogamous, or quasi-endogamous, group) without any varṇa (rank classification). 1