Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Prema-vilasa Observations III

Those "suspicious chapters" are surprisingly full of new nectar. One reason may be that the last four chapters were not as frequently in circulation and the Bhakti-ratnākara, etc., became more popular. Whatever the reason, there is some historical information, some anecdotal nectar, which are completely new to me. I wish I had gone through it before. As I said already, I don't see why this work should be considered less authoritative than Bhakti-ratnākara, which was written a century later, when stories would have been even more embellished by time.

Here is an example. There is a famous story in the BRK (5.1627-1670) about Vallabha coming to Vrindavan and criticising a verse in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, namely the one that calls the desires for liberation and sense enjoyment "witches." Rupa defered to the senior acharya and agreed to excise the verse, or at least modify it. Jiva, who was newly arrived in Vraja, was irritated by Vallabha Bhatta’s criticism and defended his uncle’s honor with a gusto when Vallabha went to bathe in the Yamuna. On his return, Vallabha rescinded his request and asked Rupa who this intelligent young man was. Rupa told him, but later chastised his nephew, saying that such arrogance did not befit life in Braj, and banished him from his company.

Jiva went to reside at Nanda Ghat, drinking only milk and eating dust in penance until Sanatan came to intervene on his behalf to Rupa.

This story appears to be an embellishment of an anecdote found in Prema-vilāsa (vilāsa 23, p.223), where it is said that a dig-vijayi came to Vrindavan seeking admissions of defeat from the scholars and pandits of the area. Rupa and Sanatan, out of humility, agreed to sign such a jaya-patra, but Jiva was unable to tolerate the arrogance of the visiting scholar and defeated him soundly in a debate. When the scholar returned the slip of paper to Rupa, Rupa summoned Jiva and told him, “You have become angry and this is not befitting someone who is in the renounced order. You have foolishly become a renunciate too soon, so be out of my sight.”

Here Nityananda Das says that Jiva went into a quiet place and began writing Sarva-samvadini at this time. This explains why there is not mangalacharan to his gurus Rupa and Sanatan in this work. Anyway, from this point on, the common aetiology of the two legends comes together: Sanatan intervenes: "You accept that our dharma is to be merciful to the jivas and to have love for the Holy Name. So why are you not merciful to Jiva?" And so Rupa and Jiva are reconciled after Sanatan's intervention.

Now, although both versions have the structure of legend or myth, with the payoff on the wordplay around Jiva's name, the BRK shows certain embellishments that show it cannot be historically true. Namely, Vallabhacharya's name: Vallabha died in 1533 and Jiva would not have been in Vraja before 1541. The story, at least with him in the starring role, is not possible. I'd have to go back and look more closely at the language to see the extent to which Narahari borrowed from Nityananda Das, but it is certainly likely.


There are numerous other stories that I find enjoyable and repeatable. One is that of Sanatan. I would like to look at this a little closer, too, to see to what extent Nityananda has borrowed from other sources. He mentions Vrindavan Das here, but not Krishnadas.

Anyway, the story is about Rupa and Sanatan returning to Ramakeli after meeting with Mahaprabhu. Neither of them has come to a commitment about leaving the lives they are leading. Rupa Goswami is sleeping with his wife when some kind of insect comes and bites him. He wakes up and, wanting to see the extent of the wound, immediately orders to his wife, "Light a lamp!" She does not find anything nearby and takes an expensive dhoti of his and sets it on fire! Rupa says, "Hey! That's an expensive piece of cloth!" She answers, "I did what I had to do. It is a woman's religious duty to serve her husband. Wealth, riches, jewels and ornaments are nothing." Rupa then said, "My dear woman, you have rightly done your duty. Why have I not been able to see mine?" And with that, he sent servants to get news of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's whereabouts.

Then he and Sanatan begin the famous purascharan that would give them the necessary divine intervention to free them of their attachments. When the purascharan was finished, Rupa immediately left home. But, Nityananda Das says, Sanatan still had gāḍha prīti viṣaye, "a strong attachment for sensual pleasures." Rupa Goswami writes the following letter in code: yarī raiā iraṁ naya, which is hajarabala, i.e., charivari, i.e., nonsense. But Sanatan, being a scholar recognized the reference to this verse, which I assume was well known:

yadupateḥ kva gatā mathurā purī
raghupateḥ kva gatottara-kośalā
iti vicintya kuruṣva manaḥ sthiraṁ
na sad idaṁ jagad ity avadhāraya

Where has the Mathura of the Lord of the Yadus gone? And where is the kingdom of Koshala of the Lord of the Raghus? Contemplate this and make your mind steady: beware, this world will not last forever.

This verse had such an effect on him that he immediately decided to leave the service of the king and began studying the Bhagavata with a group of pandits. And we know the rest from Chaitanya Charitāmṛta.

Interestingly, I was looking for the source of this verse on the Indology list in June 2000 (the email is still archived on line) without success. I was probably translating B.B. Tirtha's Parshads book at the time (http://bvml.org/SBBTM/p̮ssg.html). By curious coincidence, Rochana is currently serializing this book on his Sampradaya Sun website, no doubt oblivious to the fact that it was I who translated it. Anyway, that same verse is found in the Amṛta-pravāha-bhāṣya, 2.20.3, but there it is interpreted that Mahaprabhu had gone to Mathura, which certainly has no relation to the verse itself. The Prema-vilāsa interpretation, the original interpretation, does.

Another little story that is told therein fits nicely into the customary vairagi saint legends: While Sanatan was on his way to find Mahaprabhu, he lay down on the ground to sleep, but he built pillows out of sand to make himself more comfortable. An old woman saw him and said, "Just look at this rich fellow who has become a daravesh. He is sleeping on the ground but still shows his attachment to familiar habits by making pillows for himself!" Sanatan immediately got up and bowed down to the old woman and said, "You have instructed me like a guru." And from that moment, the very roots of his attachment to material life were cut away. (Vilāsa 23, 220-221)


According to Prema-vilāsa, Nityananda left the world two years after Mahaprabhu, and Advaita Prabhu two years after that. Vrindavan Das went to live in Denur village after that. (p. 220)


Nityananda Das talks about Gadadhar Pandit. I wrote an article about Gadadhar (Gadadhar Pandit :: Bhakti Shakti), but made no reference to the information found here. Most of it is written in accordance with the Chaitanya Bhagavata version. Nevertheless, he seems to be writing in response to the controversy about Gadadhar being Radha when Mahaprabhu is Radha and Krishna. I always wondered where the Gaudiya Math got its idea that the main Radha joined with Krishna, while Gadadhar was a  prakāśa, or something even lesser. These are all rather confused discussions without much value (om purnam adah purnam idam, etc.), at least wherever such hierarchies are brought into the picture.

The Prema-vilāsa verses, for your reference, are:

śrī-śādhā śrī-kṛṣṇe mili gaurāṅga īśvara
prakāśāntare rādhā hoilā gadādhara
gaurāṅgera paricaryā koribāra tare
janama labhilā gadādhara rūpa dhaire
Sri Radha joined with Krishna to become Lord Gauranga. In another manifestation, Radha became Gadadhar. In order to serve Gauranga, she took birth in the form of Gadadhar. (page 216)

I am going to have to add this material to my article, obviously.



Krishnadas said...

Very interesting. You are doing great work, Jagat.

By the way, it is surprising how deep the negative feeling for Vallabha is rooted among Gaudiyas. On one hand, it is interesting to see the bias and its effect in the Gaudiya writings, and on the other, it is worrying and even strange. This part is no nectar for me.

Jagat said...

I used the word "nectar" mainly because I found many interesting things in what I read. I am feeling somewhat angry with myself for not taking Prema-vilasa more seriously.

As to sectarianism in Gaudiya Vaishnavism--it is true. We are subject to the same tendencies of kanistha adhikaris everywhere. It hurts sometimes to see it so blatant.

However, I don't know how deeply negative it is. The Gaudiyas have a perception of Vallabha as very learned, but somewhat arrogant. The model of Rupa Goswami as the archetype of humility shown in the BRK version, following on the CC encounter near Prayag, is drawn out using Vallabha as the foil. It is a bit unfair and I am glad to see that a nameless Dig-vijayi Brahmin takes the role in PV.

By way of contrast, however, the Harivamsa story is told in grisly detail (as much as there is ever detail) in PV, whereas it is entirely ignored in BRK. These things reflect political alliances in the time they were written.

Just like in the Prabhupada-lilamrita, Satsvarupa wrote nothing about some of the deeds of his peers, like Kirtanananda, even though they were of great historical significance for the movement, because it was impolitic to do so. Similarly, the Prabodhananda, Gopala Bhatta, Harivamsa complex has become entirely distorted in the chronicles because of these political considerations.

There are other factors, too, principally ethnic. Bengalis naturally prefer Bengalis, Hindustanis, Gujaratis, etc., stick to their own for the most part. This results in a kind of insularity and ignorance of the other groups.

Ramakrishna Pandit Baba managed to make friends with Nimbarkis and Radhavallabhis in the early to mid-20th century, but the Vallabhis don't have the renunciate ethic found in these other two groups.