Baladeva Vidyabhushana (also written Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa) (c. 1700 – 1793 AD) was an Indian Gaudiya Vaishnava acharya (religious teacher).
Despite being renowned all over the world as the Gaudiya Vedanta Acarya, the scarcity of available authentic biodata has led misinformed authors to spread incorrect information about his life incidents.
There is no known historical evidence regarding either his birthplace or date, nor any known reference to it in his works. Some wrongly believe that he disappeared in 1768. Yet his Aisvarya-kadambini is dated 1779 (year 1701 of Shaka era). The original manuscript is preserved at the City Palace in Jaipur.
While his birth date is unknown, a document preserved at the Jaipur Archives dated the fourteenth day of the Bhadra month of Saṁvat 1850 (nineteenth of September, 1793 AD) describes his ceremony of condolence presided by King Pratap Singh of Jaipur (ruled 1778-1803 AD). On the basis of this evidence, it is unrealistic to assume that he was born much before 1700 AD.
The earliest documents that mention Vidyabhusana belong to the 1740s. According to oral tradition, he was born in Odisha (possibly near Remuna, Balasore).
Yet it is not clear when and how this oral tradition started. The first mention to it in written form was not earlier than late 19th century.Also according to oral tradition, at an early age he received a thorough education in grammar, poetry, rhetoric and logic. After concluding his studies, he went on a pilgrimage to various place in India. According to Vidyabhusana’s statement at the end of his Siddhanta-ratna, he had been previously initiated in the Madhva-sampradaya before becoming a follower of the philosophy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
When he visited Jagannatha Puri (Odisha), he met Sri Radha-Damodara Deva, a grand-disciple of Sri Rasikananda Deva, with whom he discussed philosophy. Sri Radha-Damodara Deva explained the conclusions of Gaudiya Vaishnava Theology as expounded by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Moved by those teachings, Baladeva was initiated and began to study the Sat-sandarbhas of Sri Jiva Gosvami.
In a short time he became experienced in Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy. With his guru’s permission and blessings, he moved to Sri Vrindavana (Vrindavan) to study these teachings under Sri Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakura. Baladeva fully accepted the Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy and became a powerful exponent of this system.
His first known work was a commentary on the Vedanta-sutra or Brahma-sutra, entitled Brahma-sutra-karika-bhasya. It was composed by Vidyabhusana under the order of King Sawai Jai Singh II (1688-1743 AD), as mentioned at the beginning and the end of the manuscript. The work is not dated, but from the available historical documentation, it can be inferred that it was written between 1730 and 1740 AD. This was the Vedanta commentary that Vidyabhusana wrote very quickly in order to appease the King and the opponents who belittled the Gaudiyas for not having a Brahma-sutra-bhasya.
The much more famous Govinda-bhasya was a much later and more elaborate work, and its oldest known manuscript is dated Saṁvat 1815 (1758 AD). Some claim that Baladeva received the title “Vidyabhusana” from the King or from the Ramanandis. However, the Karika-bhasya manuscript and his other earlier manuscripts are signed “Vidyabhusana.” He may have received this title before joining the Gaudiyas, probably when he was a Tattvavadi debater. Another of his earlier works was the Tattva-dipika, also written under the order of Sawai Jai Singh II.
Some misinformed individuals also claim that the Govinda-bhasya was written at Galta, to which there is not the slightest evidence and which makes no sense at all, as according to documentary evidence, even during Sawai Jai Singh II Vidyabhusana was the Mahant of the New Govinda-deva Temple in Vrindavan as well as of his own temple in Jaipur, and the idea that he left his duties in both places to sit down in a temple of another sampradaya to write a commentary is nothing but absurd. The earliest documents that mention Baladeva Vidyabhusana belong to the 1740s, therefore it is most unlikely that he had any participation in the Amer/Jaipur debates before the 1730s.
Other works include Siddhanta-ratnam (Govinda-bhasya-pithakam), Prameya-ratnavali, Siddhanta-darpana, Kavya-kaustubha, Vyakarana-kaumudi, Pada-kaustubha, Isadi-upanisad bhasya, Gitabhusana-bhasya, Sri Visnunama-sahasra-nama-bhasya, Sanksepa-bhagavatamrta- tippani, Tattva-sandarbha-tika, Stava-mala-vibhusana-bhasya, Nataka-candrika-tika, Candraloka-tika, Sahitya-kaumudi, Srimad-Bhagavata-tika (Vaisnavanandini).