Monday, April 06, 2009

SKK: Tambula-khanda


I would like to continue with the second section of Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana by Chandi Das. The previous section ended with Radha being turned over to Baḍāi who is to supervise her. The pālā contains 26 songs, with one MS leaf missing, which since the first and last are partially represented in this number, probably means that there were 27 or 28 songs in all. I am assuming this would have been one evening of song.

Nowadays a three-hour Bengali līlā-kīrtana pālā usually only has 8-10 songs with a lot of narration in between. Songs also are broken up with akhars and so on. But the older style of maṅgala-kīrtana, which would have been the model for a lot of the texts that come out of the 15th and 16th centuries (e.g., Mānasā-maṅgala, Caṇḍi-maṅgala, Caitanya-maṅgala, etc.) were sung more or less without a break.

There were still some people doing this kind of performance 25 years ago, but it was pretty rare. I don't know if anyone has kept up the tradition. It required memorizing a rather large amount of material and was not particularly strong on the musical aspect of things. In fact, I recall going to one such performance and finding it a little excruciating, especially since the kinds of stories that were being told were the predictable puranic stories about miraculous results awarded to votaries of this or that deity. This may be an explanation for their decline in popularlity.

One distinguishing feature of these maṅgala-kāvya performers was their holding a chamara wisk in their hand. Not sure why or where that came from, but it was a trademark of the genre.

What the exact performance style of Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana would have been is not clear to me. Since the ragas are designated and the songs are separate, it looks like it would have been a little more sophisticated and entertaining than a maṅgala-kāvya. The songs are written as conversations -- some are spoken in Radha's voice, some in Krishna's and others (much fewer) in Baḍāi's. Others contain two of them talking back and forth in the same song. It seems that having two or three people performing together doing the different voices would have been quite a natural way to do it. I have seen performances of this sort--in Jagannath Puri, in Oriya.

Anyway, the Tāmbula-khaṇḍa begins with Radha and Baḍāi gathering the wares for market--dadhi dudha pasāra sajāyā [I am going to use more modern spellings. If you want the historically accurate ones from the MS, you will have to get your own copy.] Radha puts on a silk cloth--dressing nicely to go to market. She leaves with all her sakhīs. The first chorus is:

niti jāe sarvāṅga-sundarī
vana-pathe mathurā nagarī

Every day, Radha, beautiful in every limb, goes
through the woods to Mathura city.

A lot of the language will be familiar to bhaktas--maner ullāse... sakhI sane rasa parihāse: "In cheerful spirits, she joked and laughed with her friends."

The girls don't pay attention to the old woman who falls far behind and eventually takes a wrong turn. When Radha notices Baḍāi is missing, she sits down beneath a bakul tree to wait for her.

Having lost her charge, Baḍāi becomes very worried (rādhikā eḍiyā āji jīvoṁ kenamane? "How can I live if I have lost Radhika?") and walks into Vrindavan looking for her. Fortuitously, she comes across a cowherd with hundreds of cows. She enthusiastically goes up to him and recognizes that it is Kahnai, her grandson (nātiā). [Krishna is Aihana's cousin on his mother's side.]

One of the things that I am trying to keep track of here is the use of the language of aiśvarya to describe Radha and Krishna. What is noticeable for anyone looking 600 years into the past at this text is that you are really talking about something pretty basic where human society is concerned. It is like Peter Brooks' Mahābhārata compared to the Mahābhārata on Indian television. Brooks dressed his characters like they were living 5000 years ago--as we would think of it. Indian TV (and art) imagines some kind of fantasy world. Anyway, think of Krishna as a really rustic country boy. But when deva-rāja takes this position, that is a kind of mādhurya that even Rupa and Raghunath don't imagine. For them, Vrindavan Krishna is not that rustic.

The point being that Radha and Krishna līlā, their characters, etc., are seen differently in different times and places, and by different interpreters. Chandi Das is writing in Bengali for an audience that would have probably been 90% illiterate. That is a big difference from Jayadeva, who would have been writing for a very restricted audience of educated elites--though his songs would likely have crossed over somewhat since the songs could have been explained and embedded in vernacular narrative. Even today, some of the more popular songs from Gīta-govinda are occasionally used in Bengali līlā-kīrtana.

Back to the story: Baḍāi and Krishna exchange words and Baḍāi explains the situation--she has lost her granddaughter, whom she calls Chandravali. [Basanta Ranjan Ray (p. 183) gives several citations from other texts, including Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa, where Chandravali is used as a name of Radha. That seems like an interesting path for investigation: How did Radha and Chandravali become two different persons, and is there anything to show that the Chandravali-Radha tradition shows Radha in a different light? I.e., the Radha of SKK is generally much more mugdhā than the Radha of GG. For instance, Krishna breaks her māna pretty easily in the Vṛndāvana-khaṇḍa (song 232)]

Krishna promises to help her find Radha, but asks for a detailed description of what she looks like. Baḍāi paints a very enticing picture of Radha, with rather more in mind that simply helping him recognize a lost girl.

muni-mana-mohinī ramaṇī anupāmā
paduminī āmāra nātinī rādhā nāmā

An incomparable beauty who beguiles even the minds of munis,
that is my lotus-like granddaughter named Radha.

Krishna is immediately smitten and asks Baḍāi to introduce Radha to him. Besides which, all the uddIpanas of spring are awakening his erotic desires. Most fortunate that Baḍāi should come at this time... He concludes:
eka bāra mora tohme karo upakāra
āhme deva saṁsārera sāra

This one time, do me this favor,
I am God, the essence of the world. (!)

Combining a plea for help with a bit of aishwarya. Kind of neat. Baḍāi promises to help in the next song. This is where she says that she is capable of doing the impossible. Besides, Radha is no Sita--

ajoḍa joḍana āhme koribāka pāri
se ki rādhikā bhailī sītā satī nārī

I am capable of doing the impossible,
What do you think, Radha is some kind of saint like Sita?

Baḍāi tells Krishna to make some kind of gift for Radha, suggesting that he give her some pan, tambula. K. calls B. prāṇera dūtī, which resonates with padāvali. I will show you the way to Mathura, but promise to get Radha and me together.

Sometimes you read these things and there are little surprises. Like here in song 5, Krishna gives Baḍāi and tells her that Radha is under a bokul tree, as we learned earlier. So Krishna knew all the time? He already had his eye on her even before Baḍāi came along?

Baḍāi takes the tambula and goes to Radha. They embrace and exchange news. (A rather nice song in the svabhavokti style, which is one of the charming features of the whole SKK.) Baḍāi starts to talk her up... and here page 9 has gone missing. Maybe that page was really good and someone too lazy to copy just went and stole it! Anyway, when we get back to the story, Baḍāi is talking to Krishna, so we can assume that Radha has refused the tambula and sent it back. Baḍāi has just given an account of what she said.

In song 12, Krishna is starting to get pretty worked up and is already talking about dulaha viraha sāgara. The chorus is (in the poet's voice):

nā bola nā bola nirāsa baḍāyi / āpaṇe cinta upāe
rādhāra bacana nā pāile baḍāyi / kāhnāira prāṇa jāe
Please don't say that, Baḍāi, don't burst his hopes!
Think up a way to make it happen.
O Baḍāi, if he doesn't get Radha's promise
then Kahnai will surely die.

Krishna takes full shelter of Baḍāi Buri--āji hoite baḍāi, deva vanamālī, tohmāra bhayila dāse "From today on, Baḍāi, the god Vanamali has become your servant." Krishna sends Baḍāi back to try again.

This time Radha throws the beautifully prepared tambul on the ground, at which Baḍāi gives her fair warning:

uṭhiāṁ baḍāyi rādhāka buila / hena kāma nā karie
nāndera nandana bhuvana bandana / tora daraśane jīe

Getting up, Baḍāi said to Radha
You should not do that.
The son of Nanda is respected by the whole world,
and he is living just to meet you.
Radha answers:

ghare sāmī mora sarvāṅge sundara / āce sulakkhaṇa dehā
nāndera gharera garu rākhoāla / tā same ki mora nehā

I have a husband at home, who is fine in all respects,
who is physically good looking.
What business do I have starting up a relation
with the cowkeeper of the house of Nanda?
Here, Baḍāi comes out with it:

je deva smaraṇe pāpa vimocane / dekhila hae mukatī
se deva sane nehā bāḍhāileṁ / hae viṣṇu-pure sthitī

If one remembers this god, all sins are forgiven;
seeing him you get liberation.
If you make your love for this god increase
then you will attain the abode of Vishnu.
Radha is scandalized. How can anyone attain the abode of Vishnu by having an affair with a paramour?

In the next song (14) Radha takes a bit of a different approach. "I am too young for this sort of thing. ābālī rādhā nahoṁ suratī joge. Ask him to forgive me, but tell him to stop. When I am old enough to know about love, then bring him to me and we can make love the whole night. (jaisāṇe rati jāṇiboṁ tesāṇe kāhna āniboṁ suratī sambhoge sakala rātī pohāiboṁ). Krishna does not understand that I am too young. Go explain."

(15-16) Baḍāi brings the message to Krishna and asks him what she should answer. Krishna makes it clear he is not going to give up. He has had a dream in which he saw Radha come to him, and ever since then he has been in love with her. "I cannot live without seeing her, Baḍāi, I am telling you the truth. Touch me and see for yourself how feverish I have become. I cannot take this suffering much longer. I will die if I am kept separate from Radha any further."

(17) And off Baḍāi goes back to Radha. This time she calls Krishna "Jagannath." "You are just a milkmaid, Radha, and a foolish one at that. On account of you, I will be responsible for this man's death. Only your embrace will keep him alive. What is the use of your youthful beauty? You can only make it worthwhile if you give it to Kahnai. Just go and save Kahnai's life and save yourself from drowning in the ocean of sin."

(18) But Radha is still not going for it. She accuses Baḍāi of being shameless and warns her that her husband Aihana is a stern man who will beat her within an inch of her life if he finds out. "Have you no shame for your forefathers, old woman? If not, why are you telling me to do something so reprehensible? Don't keep coming back to me with this proposal. My husband is pretty severe and I am not free. You are my grandmother and I am your granddaughter. How can you suggest such a thing? You take the tambul and eat it yourself. Then when you realize just who you are, go back to him." And with that she gives the old woman an angry slap on the cheek.

(19) Baḍāi to Madhusudan: "My husband never once laid a hand on me, nor did my mother-in-law ever chastise me. Now on account of you, Kahnai, I have been laid to shame. I am so insulted I will take poison." She turns apologetic, "I tried to help you out, but everything has gone wrong."

(20) Krishna answers that Radha has committed a grave offense by slapping his messenger. "Just like Hanuman was doing Rama's work, so were you doing mine." [Messengers are sacrosanct. Vibhishan stopped Ravana from killing Hanuman when he was taken captive in Lanka by Indrajit. Turned out to be a bad move for Ravana.] Krishna says he will rectify the insult to her and calms her down with sweet words and promises.

(21) Baḍāi repeats the situation, even comparing Radha to a "black snake." She is pāṭābukī, shameless. The two then plot their next step and the old woman comes up with the suggestion that sets the stage for the dāna-līlā.

niti niti dadhi bike mathurāka jāe
tāka dukha diteṁ kica cintaha upāe

Radha regularly goes to sell yogurt in Mathura,
that is your chance, so think of a way to make her suffer.

(22) Krishna then proposes his plan for the dāna-līlā and everything he will do to avenge the insults Radha has heaped on them both. He will not only eat or ruin all her wares, but will also insult her (apamāna). "I will tear her bodice and touch her breasts. Then with your permission I will take her by force into the Vrindavan forest. I will shoot her with Cupid's arrows and then just be silent (rahiboṁ dhari muni-veśe), while you stand next to her and laugh."

(23) Baḍāi goes back to Radha and this time lies to her, saying that she has prohibited Kahnai from making any rude suggestions. Radha goes off with the other sakhīs, who have not been doing much all this time [I can just imagine Lalita sitting by silent while all this is going on.] They go to the market and sell their wares. And things go on as normal, with Radha serving Aihana "in every way." (aśeṣa prakāra) Radha goes to market every day and gives the money she earns to her mother-in-law. [It seems that Baḍāi is not accompanying her on these trips.]

(24-26) Krishna grows impatient and gets a hold of Baḍāi. He tells her, "Go and spend the night at Aihana's house and tomorrow go with Radha to the market." Let's put our plan into action. Baḍāi convinces Radha's husband and mother-in-law that it is time for a trip to market and this time she will go with Radha. So the chapter ends almost exactly where it began, with a nice description of Radha's beauty as she and her friends set off on their way to Mathura market.

Some observations: I remember the first time I read this and recognizing the discomfort that Gaudiya Vaishnavas would have felt with some aspects of the story as well as what they would have liked.

First of all, Rupa Goswami states in UN that the pūrva-rāga of the nayika is usually described first. Here it is Krishna who is overcome with desire and Radha who resists. In Vidagdha-mādhava, for instance, it is Radha who is affected and she sends sakhīs to Krishna, who refuses her. This gives an opportunity to describe Radha's disillusionment and distress... the intensity of her love.

In the next chapter we will learn that Radha is only 11 years old. We don't know how old Krishna is, but he sounds like a real brat, with very little redeeming about his character. He is full of lust and when he gets turned down, he starts thinking up a plot to do what sounds pretty much like rape. Not only that, but Baḍāi is sounding pretty problematic ethically herself: she not only wants to induce her granddaughter into an immoral relationship, but is vengeful when Radha tells responds negatively.

Krishna may be God in Chandi Das's poem, but it does not look much more than a formality so far, a kind of pretext with which to browbeat Radha into surrendering her virtue. And indeed we will see this theme recur in later chapters also. We will return to analyze the question more fully when we have completed the work.


Better than LSD or XTC said...

Ahme deva saMsArera sAra

He is indeed the god (deva) of the essence of samsara (kama).

How sweet that a culture exists on our planet in which ordinary illiterate gram basis are so at home with Radha Krishna, like neighbors.

Prthvi devi indeed is blessed. How honored we are to have taken birth here.

Kind of blows my mind...

Jagat said...

I was afraid I was sounding a bit negative in the post. So I am glad you enjoyed it. Stay tuned to this channel for more. Coming soon.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. I like how you are continually learning new things.