Monday, September 10, 2007

Some More Quotes About Sakhi Bhava

Continuing in the same volume by Sharan Bihari Goswami, there are a number of other quotes from 19th and 20th century scholars. Goswami mentions Growse with approval, but does not quote him. For those who do not know F.S. Growse, he wrote a Mathura: A District Memoir in which he describes the various Vaishnava sampradayas living in the region, which he compiled during his tour as collector between 1872 and 1885.

Next on the list is J.N. Farquhar, whose Outline of the Religious Literature of India (Oxford University Press, 1920) was a noted authority in his time. Goswami picks a bone with him for identifying the Haridasis as related to the Gaudiya sampradaya, figuring that the confusion arose out of the similarity of names with Yavan Haridas. He also objects to the sentence "They [Radha-vallabhis] are Shaktas, placing Radha above Krishna." The main quote, though, relates to the Vallabhi sampradaya:

Whether they be men or women, they look forward to becoming Gopis and sporting with Krishna in Goloka. In worshiping the Maharajas, women show their devotion upon him as being actually Krishna, the darling of the gopis. Hence when the Maharaja is a vicious man, they are in utmost danger. There has been a great deal of immorality in certain cases. According to my informant, these abuses arose in the eighteenth century. He assures me that there is no basis for them in the literature. (p. 318)

On the whole, the above paragraph shows a number of things. One, the British researchers were to a great extent dependent on informants. This made them, like journalists, only partially dependable. In this particular case, the Maharaja problem in the Vallabhi sampradaya came to the fore in a famous case in Bombay in the 1860's. Haberman has written an article on the subject, On trial: The love of the sixteen thousand gopis. This notorious case is mentioned in the following quote, from the American James Bissett Pratt (India and its Faiths, Houghton Mifflin, 1915)

The former and lower tendencies are seen in several Vaishnavite sects, some of them centre their worship particularly on Radha, who in the later sectarian works is represented as Krishna's favourite mistress. In their worship of the passionate pair, these Vaishnavites regard sexual passion as the type of divine love and as the means of entering into communion with the deity. The climax of this "religious" filth was attained by the sect found about 1500 by Vallabha and still existing in parts of India. This man not only preached the doctrine of divine union by means of sexual passion indicated above, but succeeded in persuading his many followers that he and all his male descendants were incarnations of Krishna. I cannot detail here the unspeakably vile practices to which this led, but some of them may be imagined and the reader can find them exposed at length in the "History of Maharajas", which reports the findings at the famous Bombay Libel suit in 1860. (p.58)

Goswami here comments that Farquhar's general presentation is fair, and the bad behavior of a few individuals has done immeasurable harm to the general reputation of Vaishnavas practicing gopi bhava sadhana. All practitioners are meant to see the guru as Krishna himself, but if such a guru takes advantage of his position to exploit the disciple, it is his character that is to blame and not the worship of Radha and Krishna. The actions of a few individuals in this case was an aberration and has nothing to do with the dogmas and beliefs of the Vallabha sampradaya, or indeed any of the Vaishnava schools. Although Farquhar accepts this, many other Western critics blamed the worship of Radha Krishna itself.

A last quote in English, by F. E. Key, in A History of Hindi Literature (1920):

A great deal of the poetry connected with the Krishnaite cult deals with the amours of Krishna with the Gopis (Milkmaids) of Braj, and especially with Radha. The great Hindu teachers of bhakti threw a mystical glamour over the stories. Krishna was to them the Supreme Deity, Radha and other Gopis stood for human souls, of whom Radha expecially typified the devotee, ready to offer her whole self in devotion to God. In the literature connected with this form of Bhakti movement, the writers often use the most erotic language and sensuous imagery to describe the soul's devotion, yet the writers of these lyrics of passionate devotion were often men of real religious earnestness, quite free from any impure motives in composing them. That literature of this kind has, however, a very dangerous tendency has too often been shown in the history of the Krishna movement.

I am going to leave this without any further discussion for the time being. There are a number of Hindi authors who are cited and I will discuss them tomorrow. Suffice it to say that this dominant opinion strongly influenced the Indian thinkers, as the Bhandarkar quote showed.
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