The Mahanubhavas, who derive their name from maha anubhava (great realisation), are a small sect of Hindus. Their
chief seat and place of pilgrimage is at Rithpur in Morsi tahsil, though they have also an establishment near Poona. The Jai Krisna sect in the Punjab and Acyut Panth in Gujarat are said to be branches of the same sect. Cakradharsvami, an eminent disciple of Guru Govindprabhu, is regarded to be the founder of the Mahanubhava sect. Dr. V. B. Kolte and others are of the opinion that Cakradharsvami came from Gujarat and settled at Rithpur. It is also said that Haripaldev, a Gujarati Brahman, got prasad of Sengulya from Guru Govindprabhu who afterwards named him as Cakradhar. Cakradharsvami who is supposed to have been born as a purnavatar of the Parabrahma Paramesvar in sake 1143, got Dnyan (knowledge) as a result of devout austerity in the presence of Guru Govindprabhu. The Mahanubhavas believe in Pane Krisna, viz., (1) Sri Krisna, (2) Sri Dattatreyaprabhu, (3) Sri Cakrapani, (4) Sri Govindprabhu, and (5) Sri Cakradharswami.
The sect was misunderstood for long, mainly because of wrong interpretations. Non-availability of Mahanubhava literature was one of the factors that kept the sect in dark. The sect, though based on the philosophy expounded in the Bhagavatgita has its own distinct place in the system of religion. It differs in details from the Vedant philosophy. But it can be said that it is just a branch of spiritual knowledge like Advait, Dvait, etc.
The sect originated as a reaction against the rigid caste system (Caturvarnya), the multiplicity of gods, the vaunting nature of the Brahmans of Paithan Peeth which together culminated in influencing the then disordered social structure.
The Mahanubhava sect accepted the monotheistic principle and inculcated the exclusive worship of Lord Krisna, the only incarnation of the Supreme Being or Purnavatar or Parabrahma Paramesvar. The sect repudiated the multiplicity of gods and broke off all former ties of the caste system. However, the Mahanubhavas worship places and stones touched by Cakradharsvami. Cakradharsvami pronounced that Jeeva, Devata, Prapanca and Paramesvar are the only four things that exist in the whole universe. Out of these, Jeeva is bandha-mukta, Devata is nityabandha, Prapanca is jad and Paramesvar alone is nityamukta. Jeeva and Paramesvar are two different entities and they never merge into one even though the Jeeva becomes mukta. Thus, the sect preaches a sort of Dvait philosophy.
The head of the sect is a Mahant with whom are associated a number of priests. The sect is divided into two classes. Upadesi and Sanyasi. Celibacy [The celibates, both men and women, shave the head completely and wear black robes. The lower garment is a waist cloth forming a sort lungi, and is intended to express devotion and indifference to distinctions of sex.] is regarded as the perfect life but
matrimony is permitted. Marriage being contrary to strict rule
they inform their guru and get his consent before entering upon
it. The ceremony is performed in privacy inside the temple.
The marriage ceremony is very simple and unaccompanied by
processions or rejoicings. Widow remarriage is allowed. Mahanubhavas evince a great respect for animal life. Most of them
pass the Dasara day outside the villages or towns. This is
probably attributable to sacrifice of a he-buffalo which they
abhor. This signifies their disliking for slaughter of living
beings. They have a deep respect for plant life as well.
The dead are generally buried in salt, usually in a sitting posture, though sometimes the corpse is laid in the grave on one side with feet to the south, head to the north and face to the east. The Mahanubhavas still proselytise.
Apart from the religious doctrines and humanitarian outlook preached by the sect, its exponents have made a distinguished contribution to Marathi language and literature. About eight hundred years ago the sect accepted Marathi language as its dharmabhasa, and helped its spread and growth. The followers of the sect who speak Marathi well are still found in some parts of Gujarat and the Punjab. This is because of the strenuous efforts of Nagadevacarya, the first propagandist of Mahanubhava sect, who, with the help of other followers like Mahimbhat and others, moved through various parts of the country to spread the doctrines of the sect through Marathi language. The religious literature of the sect contains both prose and poetry. Lila Caritra, Siddhant Sutre, Sutrapath, Drstant, Prameya-granth, Band and Mahanubhava Tatvadnyana are masterpieces in prose: while Dhavale of Mahadamba, Sisupal vadha and Rkmini Svayamvar are renowned poetic works.