Prema-vilasa Observations I

The hammer is coming down on this reading of Prema-vilāsa. I am becoming more convinced of the importance of this book, in spite of some of the problems it presents. In general, I feel that Nityananda Das's presentation is simple and credible. He was born in 1537 in Srikhanda, was an eyewitness to many of the events he describes, such as at the beginning of chapter 14, where he recounts the meeting of Srinivas Acharya with Raghunandan Thakur in Srikhanda.

रघुनन्दन रूपे भुवन मोहन । श्रीनिवासेर रूप ताहे आत्यन्त शोभन ।।
देखिया मोहित हैल चित्त जे आमार । से जाने दोंहार रूप नयने लागे जार ।।

He is also present in Jajigram when Ramachandra Kaviraj meets Srinivas. Vyasa Acharya is also there in Srinivasa's entourage and engages in debate with Ramachandra. There are few specifics about their discussion, but it does seem to confirm Yadunandan's account in Karṇānanda that Vyasa and Ramachandra tended to have disagreements. Nityananda Das does not recount the legend of Srinivas seeing Ramachandra on his way to getting married (the source of which is what)? Rather, Ramachandra comes to Jajigram looking for Srinivas. This is followed by the story of Govinda Kaviraja's conversion and initiation. (BTW, Srinivas, like Jiva Goswami, gives Radha-mantra. So this mantra seems to have been given some importance by the Vrindavan school.)

It gets a little complicated trying to understand Nityananda Das sometimes, as he uses "Thakur" and "Acharya" interchangeably, often changes voice, and does not always clearly signal changes of place and character.

Anyway, I am having a little difficulty understanding why Bhakti-ratnakara and Narottama-vilāsa, both written more than a century later, are accepted as authoritative while Prema-vilāsa seems to be almost entirely denigrated and distrusted. A really critical reading of the books (Karṇānanda, Anurāga-vallī, Prema-vilāsa, BRK and NV, as well as Nityānanda-vaṁśa-vistāra, etc.) dating from this period, with a detailed analysis comparing and contrasting them seems still to be needed. This will shed light on those elements that have been rejected by Narahari Chakravarti and hint at political developments in the movement's history.

Chapter 14 tells in nice detail the story of Govinda Kaviraja’s conversion. His bhaja huṅ re mana song is quoted in full, as is a verse from a song to Gauri Shankar that he wrote before becoming a Vaishnava. It is indicated that bhaja huṅ re mana is his first Vaishnava song, but that Srinivasa tells him to study Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu and Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi and write songs about Radha-Krishna lila. Govinda Das certainly has very few songs that are not lila kirtans. (BTW, he is initiated in Harinam and Radha-Krishna mantra.)

It also contains an account of the Kheturi festival on Gaura Purnima, but hardly in great detail we have come to expect of what has come to be thought of as a remarkable historical moment. It was a nice festival and Gaura Raya and Vallabhi Kanta were installed (not the six deities named by Narahari); it is said that they invited everyone, but it does not say that everyone came. There is no long list of guests as found in the Narahari accounts (BRK and Narottama-vilāsa). In short, it does not seem to have any of the historical significance that we have come to associate with it. Even the fact that is only one incident described in this single chapter is an indication that Nityananda Das did not give it that much importance.

The same chapter contains the story of the two brahmins, Ramakrishna and Hariram’s, conversion. They become disciples of Narottam and Ramachandra Kaviraj respectively. Here again the emphasis seems to be on scholarly discussion as the means of conversion: all night arguments and scriptural discussions have been involved in each of the conversions described so far: Vyasa Acharya, Birhambir, Ramachandra Kaviraj and now these three. All of them, after conversion, are ordered by their gurus to study the Goswami books, in particular the two mentioned above. Hari-bhakti-vilāsa has yet to be mentioned, though the Sandarbhas are.

In the short chapter 15, Nityananda talks a little more about his relationship with Jahnava, though without giving any great detail. He emphasizes, once again, that it is on her order and that of Birbhadra that he is writing this book. Jahnava comes to Kheturi, stopping there on her way to Vrindavan to meet Narottam and Ramachandra, but she was not there for the festival. She gives Narottam her blessings. He gives her 100 mudras for the journey. (He also gave generously to Srinivas and Vyas Acharya when they left. Nityananda Das seems to have an eye for this particular detail.)

Jahnava arrives in Braja and meets Jiva Goswami, Gopala Bhatta and Lokanath Goswami. Jahnava glorifies their disciples and grand-disciple (Ramachandra Kaviraj).

Chapter 16 starts off with a rather difficult to decipher passage about householder life and renunciation, and adhikar. Then, without a very clear context, we switch to what seems to be a previous visit by Jahnava’s to Braj. Nityananda Das seems to have been there, and he says they stayed at Rupa Goswami’s “kunja.” Nityananda recounts questions that he asked of Raghunath about the nature of the dham—the distances Radha and Krishna would have had to cover in short periods of time, etc. Sanatan Goswami is still alive, so this would have been prior to 1558. I confess this is completely new to me for some reason. Rupa Goswami tells Jahnava to send Srinivas to Vraja for training. Here doubt sets in. At least, if Rupa was still around in 1568—How long would Srinivas et al have been there? If they arrived after Rupa Goswami’s disappearance and yet left for Bengal in the early 1570’s, that does not give them much time to go through all the scriptures with Jiva, does it?

This follows with Jahnava telling Nityananda Das not to get married. This seems appropriate, as he would have still been young, being born in 1537. However, the purport of all this seemingly unrelated material comes, again in an indirect way, towards the end of this chapter, when a certain disciple of Jahnava names "Auliya" Chaitanya Das goes to Vrindavan and talks to Gopal Bhatta, giving him news of Srinivas and telling him that he has gotten married, "this past Phalgun." Gopal Bhatta's has a mysterious reaction, saying something without clarity (skhalat skhalat vākya). When Chaitanya Das returns to Bengal, he recounts these things to Srinivas, who expresses fear of having offended his guru by getting married without asking his permission. Nityananda concludes the chapter: "The eternal self-manifest of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's prema has taken form and appeared in this world as Srinivas Acharya. Even so, he shows fear of offending his guru in order to establish the maryada. Know for certain that he is the shakti of Sri Rupa Goswami and not an ordinary conditioned soul." Etc.

As in the Chaitanya Bhagavata, the marriage of a principal character is practically ignored. Certainly there is no glorious description of the betrothal and the wedding ceremony. An account of Nityananda's marriages is found in Nityānanda-vaṁśa-vistāra, but I will have to look at the other chronicles to see how they handle Srinivas's marriages.


V said…
If you get the chance, could you provide some more information about Nityananda-vamsa-vistara? (authorship, length... perhaps a short summary?)
Jagadananda Das said…
Unfortunately I do not have a copy. It is attributed to Vrindavan Das Thakur, but not everyone accepts that.

I read it once when I was still in India. I remember the following: Description of Mahaprabhu's order to get married. Nityananda's marriage to Jahnava and Vasudha. Birbhadra's initiation. Then there is an extensive description of Birbhadra's preaching and travels, especially to Dhaka in East Bengal. I remember being quite impressed by the sheer magnificence in which he travelled--with large numbers of devotees, elephants, and all the rest.

But that's about all I remember. There is probably more info out there.
Vraja said…
There is an english translation available.

Have you seen this version? If you have how do you rate the accuracy?
V said…
Thanks Jagat-Ji :-)
Jagadananda Das said…
Yes, I am aware of this translation , but I haven't see it, so I cannot speak for its accuracy.
Anonymous said…

Does the Prema-vilasa give information about any controversy that may have existed between Birbhadra and the six Gosvamis?

Jagadananda Das said…
Could you give me a little more information on that. I don't think I know about that.

Birbhadra in the Prema-vilasa comes across as the real Nityananda Gosai. One can really see him in certain modern day descendants. When Srinivasa gets married to his second wife, Padmavati, she has difficulty conceiving. Birbhadra comes to see them in Vishnupur and gives her his prasad and blessings, also changing her name to Gaurangapriya. She subsequently gives birth to Gati Govinda.

When Gati Govinda is 13, Srinivas wants him to take initiation from Birbhadra, but Birbhadra insists that Srinivas take that responsibility himself.

In both anecdotes, Nityananda Das gives the impression that Birbhadra ruled. In other words, his charismatic status as the direct heir of Nityananda Prabhu and Jahnava Mata placed him above all other Vaishnavas in Bengal.

A similar impression is given in the Murali-vilasa, which is about Ramai Thakur (the founder of the line in which Bhaktivinoda Thakur took initiation). Although these other second generation leaders had their own authority and Birbhadra's contributions in terms of theology, etc., may not have been significant, they all recognized his importance as a central authority and a leader in terms of preaching and organization.

Evidently, he kept contact with other Vaishnava leaders, visiting all these other centers.

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