Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Prema-vilasa Observations IV

Here are a few more notes on Prema-vilāsa. I was hoping to finish reading the book, but there certainly is a lot to tell. As I keep saying, the book is more interesting than I was given reason to believe.

In the last four chapters – more appendices to Caitanya-bhāgavata and Caitanya-caritāmṛta, both of which are mentioned by name. One of the main purposes seems to be to establish the Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā identities, even though he does not mention this book by name. This seems to be one of the features of the Prema-vilāsa in general, as well as filling out some details about a lot of the individuals who played a role in Chaitanya lila, as already has been shown in the previous offerings on this blog. He often mentions the siddha name of a disciple, or the act of asking for or receiving the siddha name. I would say that this general mood is a confirmation of what I have written in my article about Khetari.

Nityananda Das describes more than one Khetari festival. I jumped the gun in a previous post when I said that his description of what would have been the first Khetari festival fell far short of the way we generally think of this festival as a major event. Before describing the second festival, he mentions a Katwa-Khanda festival after the disappearances of Vishnupriya, Gadadhar Das and Narahari Das. A page-long list is given of participants there. (p. 178)

After Jahnava returns from her second trip to Vrindavan. (As we recall, she left on this trip the previous Khetari festival, so she seems to have been gone for a year. ND says he was with her on this voyage, bottom page 179.).

The principal event was the installation of six deities. Somehow or other, the first Gauranga disappeared and the Krishna deity had no Radha. So Narottam wanted to replace the Gauranga and then add yugala Radha-Krishna deities as well. There is a story of how he tried several times to have a Gaura deity carved, they were never to his liking. Finally Mahaprabhu appeared to him in a dream and told him that he should find a deity that was already carved and then told him where to look for one. Narottam then went to a rich man's granary, though warned that snakes made their home there, and found the Gauranga deity in the rice.

Though the question of Pancha Tattva identities does not come out so clearly in this description of Khetari, it would seem reasonable to assume that the worship of Gaura with Radha-Krishna yugala mantra, the practice of the Gaura Chandrika, etc., were important aspects of innovation or confirmation at Khetari. Nityananda Das says that readings of Chaitanya Mangal by Lochan Das, Chaitanya Bhagavata and Chaitanya Charitamrita formed a part of the daily ritual in Narottam's temple.

Nityananda Das admits in several places, and asks forgiveness, for repeating himself, or for mixing up the sequences of events. This is especially true in the last four chapters. He says, “I am just writing things down as they come to mind.” As I have already mentioned, he seems to have been a direct participant in many of the activities. He tells a little about himself at the end of chapter 20. He was an only child who was orphaned young. He had a dream in which Jahnava told him to come to Khardaha and take initiation from her. She changed his name from Balaram Das to Nityananda Das. Because of general confusion about the chronology of events, it is hard to say how many times Nityananda Das went to Vrindavan. He is rather sparse in details of these trips, except for saying that he asked a number of questions of Raghunath Das on one trip when he went with Jahnava. A rereading of the book will be necessary to disentangle all the info. He says that he went one time with Birbhadra Goswami, and also that he wrote a book called Virabhadra-carita in which that trip is described in greater detail (mentioned several times around page 202-204, end of chapter 19).

At the end of chapter 24 he repeats that he is old and just writes things as they come to mind and that this explains the confusion about detail, the mixed chronology, etc.

In chapter 20, Nityananda Das recounts mostly Narottam Das connected stories, mostly about conversions and initiations, especially of miscreant brahmins. A lot of these seem to have involved Durga or Kali appearing in dreams and telling their devotees to get smart. One that I like was the story of Rupa Chand, who was a no good son of a rich landowner who converted and took initiation from Narottam. Then he was imprisoned by the Nawab (the ruler of Bengal) for failure to pay taxes etc. His father sends a siddha tantrik to free him. First of all, this Tantrik somehow uses his mantras to tunnel into the cell where Rupa Chand is being kept. But then he tells him, “You have to hear this 2 ½ syllable Kali mantra and chant it. Then follow me and we’ll get out of here.” Rupa Chand refuses to do so, as he has already received a Radha-Krishna mantra from Narottama and needs no other, what to speak of a Kali-mantra. Tell my father not to worry.

The Nawab then decides to do away with Rupa Chand and brings him into a public space where he is to be crushed by an intoxicated elephant. This seems to have been a favored method of execution in those days. (I seem to recall reading a story about a Portuguese priest in around the same time undergoing a similar trial.) I particularly liked the line, basilA aneka loka mAraNa dekhite (“Lots of people had gathered to watch the execution.”) Anyway, Rupa Chand remembers Narottam Das as he is being tossed about by the elephant, with the result that he is possessed of great strength. He pulls on the elephant’s trunk and throws it over, killing it to the great astonishment of everyone. The Nawab releases him after hearing his story, and Rupa Chand gets to repeat it in detail to his father, showing that the moral here was his fidelity to the Radha-Krishna mantra. (Pages 170-173, chapter 18)

Recurring themes: the “internal poita” (poita = brahmin thread). Even to the point of saying that just as Hanuman once tore open his chest to show that Rama and Sita were present inside him, Narottam tore open his chest to show a brahmin thread. The only theological point that is argued out at length with slokas from the shastras is centred around this issue. The sampradāya-vihīnā ye verse is also quoted there, without the extensive listing of the paramparā. However, in the description of Nityananda’s travels (chapter 24, p. 239), it is said that he met Madhavendra Puri’s guru Lakshmipati in Benares. This is another one of those highly unlikely anecdotes with which the book is full. I’ll have to check BRK, but I am sure that he disagrees with this completely. (Anyway, Nityananda Das says that he was Ishwar Puri’s disciple, when nearly everyone else seems to think that he was Madhavendra’s disciple, including the Sanskrit parampara lists.)

The question of interpolation is a tough one. I find that the language is pretty consistent, although I think some of it warrants investigation. Like many other writers of the period, when talking about or quoting the speech of Muslims, the language is heavily Urduized, but there are also a certain number of Arabic and Persian words in the general text, as well as some others that seem to me like more modern deshi forms. This would need looking into by someone well-versed in the history of the Bengali language.

I found the account of Rupa Narayan interesting, again because there are historically unacceptable details. Born in Assam

There is a great deal of material in chapter 24 about Advaita Acharya, some of which harmonizes with the account found in Advaita-prakāśa. Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of that book with which I could compare it. Definitely, though, there is some connection—either one borrowed from the other, or both drew from the same stock of legends. Anyway, the story of the trip to Vrindavan, the story of Madan Gopal and the Chaube, etc., is all there, as well as some other stuff I cannot remember having seen before. Then again, the Advaita-prakāśa is longer and there are things, such as the encounter with Vidyapati, which are not told here.

The story of Lokanath, which I believe is also in AP, is found here, but told differently, if I can remember properly. If Advaita still visits this fallen sādhakābhāsa’s blogsite, then perhaps he can shed some light on these questions.

The story of Lokanath is told as follows: “Vishwarupa, an incarnation of Baladeva, was then born. He was initiated by Ishwara Puri. His younger brother was Nimai Pandit, who later became known to the world as Sri Krishna Chaitanya.

The son of Ratnagarbha Acharya [Sachi Mata’s younger brother] was Lokanath. Vishwarupa wanted to take Lokanath as a companion [when he left home]. As soon as this thought entered his mind, Lokanath came and joined him. Vishwarupa took him along when he went to South India. When he took sannyasa and was renamed Shankararanya Puri, then he made Lokanath, his maternal cousin, his disciple. Lokanath served Vishwarupa. One day, Ishwara Puri suddenly appeared there. Vishwarupa offered him pranams and when he did so, he invested Ishwara Puri with godly effulgence (aiśa-tejaḥ). This is stated in the Caitanya-candrodaya-nāṭaka (1.30)—

asyāgrajas tv akṛta-dāra-parigrahaḥ san
saṅkarṣaṇaḥ sa bhagavān bhuvi viśvarūpaḥ |
svīyaṁ mahaḥ kila purīśvaram āpayitvā
pūrvaṁ parivrajita eva tirobabhūva ||

He then told Ishwara Puri to place this effulgent power in Nityananda Prabhu when he initiated him. With these words, Vishwarupa left the world. Ishwara Puri then continued on his travels and eventually came to Ekachakra in Rarhadesh.

[Here is given information about Nityananda Prabhu’s family tree. Nityananda was apparently also known as Chidananda. His six brothers all had ananda names—Krishnananda, Sarvananda, Brahmananda, Purnananda, Premananda and Vishuddhananda.]

Ishwara Puri had a dream and was told that Nityananda was an incarnation of Balaram and that he should take him with him and give him sannyasa. Which he did. And when he gave him initiation, Vishwarupa’s effulgence entered Nityananda.

The story of Jangali and Nandini is found in chapter 24.

Nityananda Das also retells the prostitute and Haridas story. One element he adds: mogala vamshiya beshya parama sundari, which is interesting because it shows that Muslim women were thought to be particularly beautiful, among other things. I believe the CC leads us to think that the girl is a Hindu.

Advaita’s marriage to Sri Devi and Sita Devi takes place in Phuliya, which I find interesting. A lot seems to have happened in Phuliya. When Boro Shyamadas (p. 233) approaches Advaita Prabhu, Advaita protests, buḍā moke ke dibe vivāha (“I am an old man, who will give their daughters to me in marriage?”)

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