Monday, April 20, 2009

Bhagavata 3.15.42

Going through the Bhagavat-sandarbha, some verses are rather difficult to deal with. The basic problem is this:

  1. Jiva Goswami is quoting the verse for a particular purpose.
  2. The immediate sense of the verse may not be obvious.
  3. Sridhar Swami's interpretation may not support Jiva's purpose.

Now when presenting the verse in translation, we have to remember that Sri Jiva has no filters: i.e., as someone who is living and breathing Sanskrit, he is naturally imbibing the verse on numerous levels, probably seeing several meanings at once. Nevertheless, even when several meanings are present, one of those will be primary to him, as it is with anyone speaking his mother tongue or another well assimilated language.

At the same time, Sri Jiva sometimes has to consult Sridhara or other previous commentaries in order to get through passages that might be difficult even to him. Sridhar Swami wrote a commentary primarily because the Bhagavatam is a difficult book and some words are obscure and need elucidation. The main purpose is not to write a homily, the way that ACBSP did.

When Kushakratha translated the Sandarbhas, he simply used Prabhupada's translations. So did Satya Narayan in his first draft. Their reasoning was that since Prabhupada is our guru, it is improper for us to use another translation. But, of course, Prabhupada's translations are heavily filtered. In the case of the Third Canto, which is where I am right now, he relied extensively (as Ekanath showed way back when) on the Gita Press edition. (Though in the specific case of this verse, that reliance is less obvious.)

In the Bhagavat-sandarbha, Section 68 (79, 80 or 85 in other editions) quotes an entire passage from Canto Three, 15.37-50. The main point for Jiva is really found in verse 43, where the Kumaras are shown to be attracted to Narayan's beauty, etc., even though they are Brahman-realized. The verses that precede it are mainly a description of Narayan's form, etc.

The trouble with verse 3.15.42 is that on at least two points the commentaries disagree or present alternative visions of the meaning, with certain ideas developing and reaching their apex in Vishwanath Chakravarti, who I think has the best and most logical understanding. Though it does not really affect Jiva Goswami's overall point, I found the exercise of understanding and translating it a real head-scratcher.

Here is the verse in the original Sanskrit.

atropasRSTam iti cotsmitam indirAyAH
svAnAM dhiyA viracitaM bahu-sauSThavADhyam |
mahyaM bhavasya bhavatAM ca bhajantam angaM
nemur nirIkSya na vitRpta-dRzo mudA kaiH ||

Here are three translations:
Gita Press: The sages regarded with unsated eyes and joyously bowed their heads to the Lord who had assumed a personality for his (Brahma’s) own sake as well as for the sake of Bhava (Lord Shiva) and yourselves (the other gods), a personality which was full of abundant charm and about which his devotees thought within themselves that Indira’s (Lakshmi’s) excessive pride of beauty disappeared at its very sight.

BBT: The exquisite beauty of Narayan, being many times magnified by the intelligence of His devotees, was so attractive that it defeated the pride of the goddess of fortune in being the most beautiful. My dear demigods, the Lord who thus manifested Himself, is worshipable by me, by Lord Shiva and by all of you. The sages regarded Him with unsated eyes and joyously bowed their heads at His lotus feet.

Satya Narayan Das: The exquisite beauty of the Lord seemed to create a doubt in the mind of His devotees, who thought that His beauty subdued the pride of the goddess of fortune, the acme of all beauty. O demigods, this beautiful form of the Lord is worshipable by me, by Shiva, and by you. The Kumaras bowed their heads out of joy and their eyes remained unsatiated.

The idea that Lakshmi's pride "disappeared, was subdued, defeated" originates with Sridhar Swami.

indirAyA utsmitam “aham eva sarva-saundarya-nidhiH” ity ahankaraNam atra bhagavat-saundarye upasRSTam astaM-gatam iti svAnAM bhaktAnAM dhiyA viracitam, bhRtyaiH sva-manasy evaM vitarkitam ity arthaH |

Lakshmi's pride (utsmitam) is the ego (ahankara) that "I am the source of all beauty." When placed here, i.e., next to the Lord's beauty, this pride was eclipsed. Such was the conjecture in the mind of the Lord's devotees.

Sridhar's interpretation of the third line has a couple of major problems. The word mahyam means "to me." It is the personal pronoun in the dative case. But it is followed by two words in the genitive, bhavasya and bhavatAm. Sridhar interprets mahyam as mama, i.e., he switches it from the dative to the genitive case. Then he inserts the word kRte, meaning "for the sake" and thus gets "taking a form for the sake of me, Shiva and you [demigods]." The Gita Press is following Sridhara throughout, but the BBT and SN don't like this interpretation for obvious reasons and so have made some changes. (They are in fact following VCT on this one.)

Of the other commentaries, let's first look at what Srinath Chakravarti does, even though his commentary is the least influential. [Despite the fact that he influenced Jiva's Brihat-krama-sandarbha commentary on the 10th Canto.] Srinath's first impulse is to accept Sridhar's interpretation about Lakshmi's pride, which he paraphrases as, "All men become beautiful when they are imbued with my presence."

In an alternative interpretation, he interprets the word upasRSTam (which is really the main problem in the verse) as upasarjanIkRtam, i.e., "rendered secondary." Why? Because her beauty is not independent, but enhanced due to her presence on the Lord's chest. Then Srinath couples the word svAnAM in the second line with the the other words in the genitive in the third line to make the conjecture not only that of the devotees [namely the Kumaras and Jaya and Vijaya], but of Siva and "you all." [This does not account particularly well for mahyam, but Srinath is obviously going with Sridhar and turning it into mama.

Then in a bold move, Srinath joins the word aGgam with indirAyAH, making the thought as follows: "Narayan took Lakshmi onto his chest, or took her hand [out of kindness] because she was trying to go away, her pride being hurt." So a whole little adventure is being read into this verse: The devotees, Brahma and all the rest are thinking Lakshmi has gotten puffed up for believing she is really the most beautiful when her beauty is really just a result of being in Narayan's company. Lakshmi is hurt and tries to run off, but Narayan takes her hand and pulls her to his chest.

Now Jiva does not seem to like Sridhar's idea of pride as ahankara. He interprets utsmitam as garva, which is a more positive concept of pride. Lakshmi is proud of having such a handsome and qualified husband. It is this that was conjectured by the devotees.

For the next portion, Jiva seems to have two interpretations, one in Krama-sandarbha, the other in the Bhagavat-sandarbha. In both he starts by asking, "If the Lord is like this, i.e., the supreme object and most confidential treasure of Lakshmi, then how can He become manifest to others?" In KS, the answer is given by reinterpreting the word aGgam ("form or body") as aGgIkAram or "acceptance." In other words "by accepting us, by entering into us to enable us to perform our respective duties [in the work of creation, etc.]." In BS, Jiva seems to be following Sridhar and only makes the "acceptance" bit an expansion of the "for our sake" reading.

Now VCT begins his commentary by citing both Sridhar's statement about Lakshmi's ahankara and Jiva's idea about pride. He then gives his own alternative, which is pretty complex, but brilliant. I hope I have it right.

atra bhagavati upasRSTaM, brahmAdibhir ArAdhyayApi rUpa-guNa-mAdhuryaiH sarvataH zreSThayApi mayA upasarjanIbhUtam apradhAnIbhUtam ity arthaH | iti hetunA | ca-kArAt premNA ca, indirAyA lakSmyA utkRSTaM smitaM, “dhanyAhaM yasyA IdRzaH preyAn” ity Anandottha ullAso yasmAt, tathA-bhUtam aGgaM bhajantaM samucita-vastrAlaGkArAdibhiH zobhayantaM, na tu zambhum iva sundaram apy aGgaM bhasmAdibhir virUpayantam ity arthaH |

VCT starts by agreeing that the word atra means “in Bhagavan.” What is “in Bhagavan”? upasRSTam, glossed as follows: "Made secondary [in relation to the Lord] by me [by Lakshmi], who am worshiped by even Brahma and the other gods, and who am superior to all in beauty, qualities and sweetness."

Now VCT takes all these words in the accusative case as being descriptive of the Lord’s form. This leaves a couple of questions here, but the GM’s decision to translate the word upasRSTam as a feminine word describing Lakshmi seems the least problematic. So the sense, as far as I can see it is, “That form in which Lakshmi herself [I am doing my own interpretation here] has taken a secondary position as the line on His chest.” Somewhat along the lines of Srinath Chakravarti.

This is the only way I can understand VCT interpretation of the word iti, which Sridhara et al read with viracitam, a rather big jump, as “for that reason”, i.e., because of this form’s being a place where Lakshmi has been made secondary.

VCT also interprets the word ca, which no one else did. He says this means there are other reasons, such as love. Reasons for what? For Lakshmi’s utsmitam.

VCT says utsmitam means "enthusiasm arising out of great joy" (Anandottha ullAsaH) in having the good fortune to have such a husband, giving it an altogether positive sense as ut-kRSTaM smitaM, "a superior sense of pride [or a smile]." Narayan’s beautiful form is that which gives Lakshmi this enthusiasm or superior pride.

Now clearly the problem with upasRSTam meaning that Lakshmi is secondary being a source of enthusiasm is that it clashes with our feminist world view. But then we all know that Lakshmi is not Radharani.

The other option I had was to say that she makes Narayan’s form secondary, but in relation to what? It goes against siddhanta to say His essence, and certainly VCT would never say that, even if someone else might. Besides the use of the word api twice, “even though I am worshiped by the gods and even though I am superior to everyone in beauty," etc., renders that option self-contradictory. Still, it would have been nice if VCT had added the one or two extra words that would have removed all confusion.

So, what does Narayan do with this body? VCT glosses bhajantam (“takes on or assumes”) by making it more beautiful by wearing all these appropriate clothes and ornaments, i.e., he does not cover it with ashes in the way that Shiva, who is also naturally beautiful, does. This is also why the puja-vidhi is to dress the deity nicely, etc. [Even though the Lord is bhushana-bhushanangam.]

Now what makes the above interpretation coherent, even though we have skipped all the way from the first line to the third, is VCT's interpretation of the second line, which completely leaves behind everything said by the three other commentaries.

tac ca paraH-sahasra-kiGkara-dvArair evety Aha&emdash;svAnAM svAnga-paricArakANAM dhiyA nitya-vividha-vastrAdi-shringAra-vailakshaNya-vidhAyinyA sUkshma-buddhyaiva bahu-sauSThavADhyaM viracitam

"The verse now states that this beautification is carried out by countless thousands of servants. That is the meaning of svAnAM, i.e., personal servants. They use their intelligence dhiyA, i.e., their fine understanding of how to dress him in unique finery, etc., and thus make him exquisitely beautiful."

What this interpretation does is, by reading viracitam with bahu-sauSThavADhyaM instead of utsmitam, is make that second line of the verse independently coherent. Really, reading viracitam ("arranged") as vitarkitam ("conjectured") does not make any sense. And it also has the defect of being a long way from the iti. I really think VCT nailed it here.

VCT then reinterprets the rest of the third line: "Can you give us any more information about the Lord's body?" [Again, this shows that VCT was taking upasRSTam as describing the Lord's body.] "Yes, it is Shiva's and you demigods' worshipable object."

Here VCT includes asmad-Adi “me, etc.” with bhavatAm, which seems a little unnecessary. He has thus dropped Sridhar's understanding that mahyam is a personal pronoun [without abandoning Brahma altogether] and instead takes it is the potential participle of mah, to worship, i.e. “worshipable,” refering again to Narayan’s body. This makes so much better sense. He explains further, "It is worshipable by us, but we must worship it with scents and flowers, etc., from afar, and not directly in the way that the Lord's own personal servants can."

So we end up with VCT's translation, which is [unexpectedly] most closely followed by the BBT :

With unsated eyes, the sages regarded Narayan who was making His own form more beautiful, this form that subordinates the goddess of fortune and yet makes her enthusiastic and joyful, and which is worshipable to Shiva and the other gods, as it was being made even more exquisite through the intelligent service of His devotees. They then joyously bowed their heads.

Of course, I really went through all that unnecessarily, as all I really need to know is what Sridhara and Sri Jiva were thinking. As stated above, Jiva wants to tone down the "taking a form" language, as well as "Lakshmi's false ego."

And that is how I spent my day...

Radhe Radhe...


Anonymous said...

A day well spent. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't 'mahyam' have another meaning? M-W says it can mean 'highly honoured' for 'mahya' that is.

Jagat said...

Yes, that is the meaning we are following here. mahya = mahanIya.

Zvonimir Tosic said...

Dear Jagat

Thank you so much for the detailed and resourceful post. I must say I truly enjoy your comments and attention to detail.

Now I'm wondering, and in your opinion, what would be the purpose of this story from Bhagavatam? It's obviously allegorical, elusive to some extent, and metaphors and names used point to some message.

After scrubbing off all decorum, and trying to find what is common below all popular commentaries and translations, what will be the underlying melody of this story of Jaya and Vijaya and Kumaras at the heaven's gate? And what Jaya and Vijaya actually represent?

Thank you again.