Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Vaishnava

I got a letter from a devotee who called himself an “accidental hermit.” He said he was gloomy because he has outgrown the Hare Krishnas and religious people in general reject new ideas. He finds that many of them are locked into “scripture-repeat” and “look-for-heretic” mode. Nevertheless, he is attached to his friends, who are all devotees. But if says something that doesn’t conform to their ideas, he loses his friends, so he remains mum. The long and short is that he feels lonely, but can find no solace in New Age, or anything else. At the same time, he cannot blindly follow scripture.


This is my quite short answer:

Yes, you have put your finger on a problem--that of the loneliness of the individual. Since individuals evolve, human groupings, like religions, must evolve. IGM have the big problem of a very dominant charismatic founder. That magnifies small heresies.

A truly big tent has to account for and permit a certain amount of heresy, i.e., allow for the maximum of individuality, debate and democracy within its confines.

Since that seems impossible within most of the IGM, we have to look for ways to create sanghas in which evolving Vaishnavas can find companionship and encouragement.

The main problem here is that most developments tend to be "vertical" rather than "horizontal." In other words, splinter groups formed around individual leaders (gurus) and their disciples, rather than groups of like-minded friends with common aspirations.

Another problem is that Vaishnavism is so widely dispersed. Facebook is no substitute for personal contact, but at least it makes worldwide communication possible. And that can encourage us to look for more advanced association, in the faith that it is possible.

I feel for you, especially since you must be feeling the loneliness very strongly to state it right out. I mean, that requires a bit of self-examination, honesty and courage also, since most people on the internet and Facebook are all about making a show; after all, Facebook means showing a face, a mask.

But those people who get caught up in an "anti-Iskcon-Gaudiya Math" mood are not accounting for their positive experiences. They tend to blow them away as some kind of mass hallucination. You, at least, recognize that you still have enough in common with the devotees you knew that you still consider them friends and want to keep them as your friends.

My personal approach has been based on an investigation of the essences. What exactly was it that attracted us to this particular spiritual path (thus making New Age and other processes unsatisfactory), and what can we reject without losing that core.

Jai Radhe and good luck. My prayers are with you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Individualism and the Flaw in Mayavada

What I find fascinating in all this study of Krishna lila is watching the evolution of a vision of God.

At some point in my spiritual life, I realized that to be an individual meant to have an individualized experience of God. The purest individual is the one who has the purest, most individual experience of God. But this assures that everyone's God is somehow different. This makes sense, because God is experienced subjectively.

What God is objectively can only be understood, like any other human experience, through comparative analysis and argument.

Someone recently wrote on Facebook--and I can't find it because he seems to have cut off our "friendship" because of my response, and therefore I paraphrase--that if you believe in God, then you have to adopt the concept of a particular religion, which means that you are going to have to compromise on various points of doctrine, etc. So, if you intellectually come to the conclusion that God is necessary ("necessary being"), it is better to simply become a Deist (what a Vaishnava would call a watered-down theistic concept of God, to the point of being quasi-irrelevant) and simply live your life ethically, "hoping for the best."

I said that I did not find this conclusion particularly astute, nor do I think anyone with true spiritually inclinations would find it in the least satisfying. God is that in relation to which I find my true identity. Knowing God deeply is to know myself deeply, and vice versa.

If you can find people who share your common interest in a hobby or politics, then as a sincere seeker of the Truth, you will surely find people who share your approach and will help you to deepen it. It all depends on how serious you are about your spirituality. As with everything, you will always have dabblers and dilettantes, hangers-on and hangers-about, and then you have seriously committed people who give primary importance to their spiritual concerns.

Religion, you could say, is about the shared concepts and ideals, the evolution of an objective idea of God, and then socializing those concepts and ideals through ritual practices. In bhakti, those practices are defined in terms of hearing, chanting, and so on. But as those practices are internalized, one naturally finds a purifying effect on the intelligence, which enhances the purely individual perspective and experience of God.

It is entirely wrong to think that one's spiritual realization will be exactly the same as anyone else's, and by that I include even the realization of one's gurus. You cannot BE anyone but yourself; no matter how rigid your orthodoxy and obedience to the past, no matter how powerful the charisma, intellectual brilliance or powerful the mythos of previous acharyas, there are too many factors related to your personal environment and experience for there to ever be absolute homogeneity. Eventually, the individual will run against a wall of some sort in the group and this results in alienation, the sense of "not belonging."

The great achievement of modern society is to find more and more ways to allow for purely individual evolution. Its great weakness has been its fragmenting, isolating and alienating tendency. This is especially caused by the promotion of immature and false expressions of individualism, usually manifesting as avatars of rajas and tamas. But as we well know, in societies where individual freedom is excessively compromised, alienation becomes an unendurable disease that can be fatal.

Alienation thus comes at the two extremes of the spectrum--one where there is excessive individualism and thus a relation with others on the profound levels of one's most cherished ideals and values is difficult to find; the other in a society where individualism is so suppressed that it cannot be expressed in any form. The challenge of any group is to establish limits and provide sufficient opportunities for individual development without losing the core of one's reason for being.

These things are mapped in Weberian sociology by the use of terms like cult, sect, denomination and church, in which the intensity of a narrow system of beliefs and practices gradually dilutes into a normative, more widely acceptable and much less demanding one. The first tend to find themselves marginalized from the larger society, the latter almost indistinguishable from it. Paradoxically, the former groups tends to demand higher levels of commitment and conformity, the latter much less.

The trick here is to be able to create functioning groups with highly defined symbol systems and rituals and high degrees of commitment, and profound degrees of individual realization, while at the same time being relatively free of coercive practices.

Harvey Cox discussed these problems in his famous The Secular City many years ago (1957), in the face of traditionalists' lachrimose response to modernity and individualism. He saw the ability to diversify, i.e., belong to numerous groups simultaneously, was enriching both intellectually and spiritually, and therefore desirable.

Samuel Huntingdon also, in writing about the political evolution of states (Political Order in Changing Societies, 1968), stated that in a mature civil society requires that people recognize that they have multiple interests, some coinciding with and some diverging from those of others in their particular subgroups. The sign of a less evolved political environment is one where people become "one-issue voters." If abortion is their issue, they will ignore other issues, even though they may individually and globally, be benefited from them. The most common single issues are those based on ethnicity or race: voting for a politician, regardless of his views, simply because he belongs to the same ethnicity, race or religion.

Pluralism furthermore means tolerance. The cult debates in the 60's and 70's showed various sides of the situation. Narrowly-based sects were pitted against what were seen as the most fundamental values of the broader society, liberal values that were tested to their limits.

The recognition that as individuals we are complex phenomena with multiple parts makes any attempt to find true social harmony, what to speak of true friendship or intimacy, a tough road.

Recently, I was reading a book on Yoga by Vishwatma Baura (गीता प्रतिपादित योग मार्ग) that I picked up in Waterloo and came across a passage where he states that individualism itself, ahankara, by which he means individual existence itself, is the root of all social ills. This is the extreme conservative Hindu position and to me shows the inherent flaw in Mayavada.There is no such thing as the elimination of the individual, and even the strongest Western yogis, Buddhists or Advaita-vadins would never submit to such an idea. In my experience, New Agers all believe, pretty much like atheists, that one rids oneself of concepts of God and religion, which are finite and restricting, in order to realize a kind of pure individualism, not to lose it.

We may look at the Varnashram system as one that demands everyone surrender totally to their prescribed role in society. This is something that most modern Westerners would also rebel against, especially women. No one wants to be defined so precipitously. But even the least educated, least sophisticated, least evolved human being at some point rebels against being pigeon-holed so easily. And most understandably so.

So when we Vaishnavas say that one has to go beyond Varnashram, it means that whatever purifying effects for the ego arise out of such surrender, we have to find the voice that is uniquely and most profoundly our own.

This does not really change the essential idea of Varnashram, which is this: Until you hear that voice, you have to frame yourself in some kind of discipline, if not for the sake of spiritual edification, to be able to live any kind of sane and equilibrated life. To greater or lesser extent, all sadhanas have this same character. They are simply deeper than the various levels of karma-yoga in Varnashram.

The guru's order is, in fact, a more sophisticated version of Varnashram, or let us just call it dharma pure and simple. All dharma is sadhana, and all sadhanas are conceived in terms of the material body, even though their goal is to awaken the dharma of the soul, which is purely and directly related to the Supreme Absolute Truth, beyond the conditioned state.

All transcendentalists will tell you that when you reach this state, you will be supremely satisfied; for some it will mean adhering to the external dharmas, for others it will mean rejecting them, but the entry into the Supreme is the goal of all sadhanas. Therefore, what need does he or she have of human association? Such a person is free from all compromise with society, free from all need of human love, appreciation, adoration, service, help, etc.

Not quite. At least not if that is the picture of a hermit on a mountain. Clearly, the human ideal expressed in Bhagavad-gita is that of someone who acts for the sake of others, loka-sangraha. In other words, he is in a position to give. Krishna in the Gita says that such a person encourages others in their performance of dharmas.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Gopala-vijaya VI: Madana Puja

Let us continue our exploration of the Gopāla-vijaya. One of the novel details in the GPVJ version of the Krishna story is the gopis' worship of Kamadeva. This fits into the pūrva-rāga stage, i.e., prior to Radha and Krishna's first meeting.

Gopis worship other gods

The gopis are often pictured worshiping other gods. This is, first of all, the Katyayani Puja, which is a powerful addition to the Krishna cycle found in the Bhagavatam and derived originally from Alwar sources. But, in general, as I may already have mentioned, Devakinandan and the Gaudiyas separate the married gopis from the unmarried, and Radha is said to not have been present amongst the Katyayani-worshiping gopis. Nevertheless, there are some parallels between Katyayani Puja and Madana Puja, as we shall see below.

The Goswamis seem to consistently depict Radha and her sakhis as worshipers of Surya, while Chandravali and her sakhis worship a form of the Goddess Durga or Chandi. Radha's relationship to Suryadeva is given extra play in Lalita-mādhava, where Radha is saved and temporarily adopted by Surya Deva when she tries to commit suicide by jumping in the Yamuna. The Yamuna herself is a daughter of the Sun God. She is then given along with the Syamantaka jewel to Satrajit, another Surya bhakta, and becomes Satyabhama.

What exactly the significance of this relationship is for the Goswamis is something I haven't thought about much as yet. Krishnadas Kaviraj calls Radha padma-bandhu-rādhikā, "worshiper of the friend of the lotus flowers." Where this came from is also an unanswered question: Surya is one of the five gods worshiped by the Smartas, but independent worship or devotion to Surya is pretty much extinct. Vestiges like the Konark temple in Orissa are rare. So how and why this choice was made is a matter of conjecture. But then, Madana Puja is a pretty rare thing in present-day India also, though there is such a tradition. (See God of Desire: Tales of Kamadeva in Sanskrit Story Literature)

There is a Madana Puja described in the Ānanda-vṛndāvana-campū, but that seems different from the one that takes place here; in AVC, it is conducted between Vasanta Panchami and Maghi Purnima, a bit earlier than Vaishakh as described here.

As we saw recently, in CCN Kavi Karnapura depicts Radha and the gopis worshiping Gopishwar Mahadeva. This is also his occasion for the dāna-līlā to take place. In other accounts, the worshiping of a god is usually an opportunity for something else, some other type of pastime, usually Krishna disguising himself as a priest.

The dāna-līlā usually takes place either while the gopis are headed to Mathura to sell milk products in the bazaar (Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana and GPVJ, Rādhā-premāmṛta, and other original folk versions), or to a sacrifice at Govardhan (DKK and DKC). The rationale for this switch will have to be examined, but at first sight, I would assume that it is to show that the gopis' intention was to serve Krishna--even though they had been told to expect generous compensation for their ghee. This could in turn be seen as a case of motivated devotional acts having higher rewards, but that may be stretching beyond Rupa Goswami's intention.

The Gopis go with Barai to the Madana Mandap

In GPVJ, the gopis go to perform Madana Puja, which appears to be a regular function. They go accompanied by Barai, following her single file like ducklings floating in the river behind the mother duck.

As they walk, suddenly they come across Krishna who is watching them with great interest. Badai turns around, but it is too late and the gopis started thinking about displaying whatever flirtatious moves they had (30.44).

jebā joto vidhi jāne vidagadha kalā/
saba mane mane anumāne braja-bālā//

The time is spring, and Devakinandan says in what I think is a very nice pair of verses,

eke se juvatī jana āre madhu māse
āre se rasika cuḍāmaṇi kānu pāśe
eta avasara bujhi catura kāmadeve
gopī bhāva upahāre govindāi seve
First of all, there are these young damsels, and secondly, it is the month of Vaishakh. Finally, there is Krishna, the chief of all rasikas. Clever Kamadeva, seeing this opportunity, rendered service to Krishna by making him a gift of the gopis' love. [Or, by giving the gopis love, served Krishna.] (30.46-47)
Or, bhāva here probably means the anubhāvas, or external manifestations of inner moods rather than anurāga, as the description that follows is really all their foxy moves. So Kamadeva made a gift to Krishna of this vision of the gopis' reacting to his sight. Anubhāvas include things like vilāsa and moṭṭāyita, etc., which are especially produced when lovers meet by surprise in this way.

Somehow, the wave that sweeps over the gopis and produces all these effects in them does not immobilize them completely and they manage to walk past Krishna. Following Barai who shows the way, they finally arrive at the Madana Mandap, the sacred altar of Kamadeva.

mādhavī latāra tale pātila āsane
rādha beḍhiyā basilā sakala sakhī-gaṇe

They spread their mats underneath a madhavi vine. Then Radha sat down and the sakhis also sat down, surrounding her. (30.68)
Though all the gopis are troubled by feelings for Krishna, none dares say anything because of Barai's presence. Radha sees this and, says to Barai, "We have everything we need. We are only missing a Brahmin to do the puja. So please go quickly and bring one."

Barai leaves and the sakhis start to laugh, for now they can talk freely about Krishna. But who can describe Radha's state of mind? It was as though her entire body was bathing in kalakuta poison. One sakhi picks her up and holds her closely, but no matter what anyone says to her, she cannot respond. Her eyes are closed, but the tears wet her blouse. Kavisekhara concludes the chapter,

kohe kavi śekhara rādhāra abhisāra
jā śunile ghare pāi nandera kumāra
Kavishekhara thus recounts Radha's abhisāra, the hearing of which results in getting Nanda's son in one's very own home. (30.86)
I only mention this to show that the mood of bhakti is far greater in GPVJ than in SKK. I have a couple of other such colophon verses that I will tack on at the end of this post.

While looking for a Brahmani, Barai runs into Krishna

Chapter 31 begins with Krishna's pūrva-rāga.

je dige je dige cāhe kamala-locane
se dige se dige rādhikā-maa dekhe tribhuvane
hṛdaa bethita kṛṣṇa kichu nāhi bāse
parāṇa na dhare eku rādhā abhilāse
In whatever direction he looked, the lotus-eyed Krishna saw the three worlds as nothing other than Radhika. His heart troubled, nothing in the world any longer brought him joy. He was barely able to sustain his life, so overpowered was he by desire for Radha. (31.6-7)
Leaving aside his sakhas, Krishna followed the path taken by the gopis. But before he could reach the Madana altar, he encountered a gopi, Radha's sakhi Chandramukhi, who was resting in the shade of a kadamba tree.

They have a bit of an icy conversation at first, but when Krishna makes it known he is only interested in Radha, she opens up a little. But she is not encouraging, saying that he did not really have a chance. Do glass and gold belong together? Can you string pearls on a rope of hemp? Finally, she declines to intervene, except to tell Radha of his love for her. But if he really wants to get something done, he should ask Barai.

āchae baḍāi nāme tāra vṛdha mātā
se je kore khaṇḍibāre nāre je vidhātā
Radha's grandmother is called Barai. Even God Himself cannot undo anything that she undertakes. (31.54)
The conversation that follows with Barai is again mostly discouraging, some excerpts of which we have seen in the articles on Aiana and Barai, but finally she lets Krishna know that in fact Radha is eager to meet with him also.

Then Barai, taking Krishna with her, finds a young Brahman woman (brāhmaṇa-nārī, brāhmaṇa-kumārī) to act as priest and then returns to the Madana mandap. She tells Krishna to hide in the bushes and then heads for the gopis. When they see her coming, they have to clean up Radha who has been lying on the ground. They bring her to consciousness by telling her Barai is coming with Krishna, but of course it is just the Brahman woman.

The chapter ends with the following puṣpikā, which sounds very classically Gaudiya. This could be the reason that some think Devakinandan is post-Gauranga, but I think verses like this predate Mahaprabhu.

kohe kavi śekhara, bujho he abudha nara
aho niśi koho hari kathā
śunite parama sukha, kohite saphala mukha
ṭuṭae saṁsāra dukha bethā
Says Kavishekhara, "Listen, O foolish mankind! Speak of Hari day and night. Listening will make you joyful, it will perfect your speech and put an end to all the pains and sufferings of material life." (32.23)
Madana Puja

Chapter 33 is the description of the Madana puja. Surrounded by the gopis, Radha engages in the puja of Kamadeva. So beautiful is the scene, one would think that one was in the capital city of Madana himself (33.5). Radha makes the various offerings, but when she has to recite the meditation mantras of Kamadeva, she cannot help thinking of Krishna and this makes the flames of her love double in fury. When offering the dark colored durba grass, it reminds her of Krishna's swarthy complexion. Whatever mantras the Brahman woman makes Radha recite all turn into Krishna's name.

Radha's friends all laugh to see the puja turned upside down like this. Meanwhile Krishna is watching from behind a tamal tree, unnoticed, getting great relief and encouragement from what he sees. Seeing the beauty of the gopis, he felt he had a thousand eyes, like Indra.

Meanwhile the gopis conclude their worship by offering their prayer to Kamadeva. They stand in line, fold their hands and ask for the following blessing:

ei eka vara māgi kariyā bhakati
nandera nandana jena ho:iye nija pati
mane mane anuvara māge saba sahi
mo jena sobhāgī haṅ sabhākāre cāhi

"With devotion, I ask for this one blessing, that the son of Nanda should become my husband." All Radha's friends mentally asked for the secondary blessing that they should become Krishna's wives openly, with everyone's acceptance. (32.20-21)
This is interesting that though these gopis did not participate (I think) in the Katyayani puja, the prayer is almost the same.

(Interestingly enough, I recently saw a Hindi film, Kitne dura kitne pas, in which there is a scene in which the kātyāyani mahāmāye verse was chanted during a ritual that was kind of a marriage. The couple was not married nor yet really in love, but forced to travel together with the result that people thought they were. Anyway, I may comment further on this film later, comparing it to an American romantic comedy.)

Here the married gopis are asking for something impossible, to be married to Krishna when they are already wed. In other words, it cannot be said that they are asking for a parakiya relationship. But since the worship is of Madana, it would seem that erotic love is being given precedence over marriage itself. Anyway, it is not clear to me exactly what the significance is at this point, except that it enters into the wider category of Kama = Krishna, and the whole erotic aspect of Krishna worship in general.

vṝndāvane aprākṛta navīna madana
kāma-gāyatri kāma-bīje jāṅra upāsana
puruṣa-yoṣit kiṁ vā sthāvara-jaṅgama
sarva-cittākarṣaka sākṣāt manmatha-mathana
In Vrindavan there is a transcendental, ever fresh Cupid who is worshiped by the Kama Gayatri and Kama bija mantras. He attracts the consciousness of all creatures, whether male or female, still or moving; he is the churner of even Cupid’s mind. (CC 2.8.137-138)
We will have to explore this verse and the corresponding one in 2.21 more fully later.

As the gopis prayed to be Krishna's wives, he looked on and smiled. Suddenly Radha's eyes fell on him, but she thought that Kamadeva was appearing before her. She was dumbfounded, but Krishna took the opportunity to disappear.

Barai Convinces Radha

With the puja completed, the gopis went and took the dust of Barai's feet. And she also gave them her blessings. She then took rest, putting her head on Radha's lap. With the exception of one or two sakhis, all the other gopis went home, worried about their mothers-in-law. When Barai woke up, Radha signaled to her friends to go pick flowers or something, i.e., to leave them alone. This is where Barai praises Radha and tells her that her husband is unworthy of her ("buffoon cowherd").

sunāgara saṅgame adhika bāḍhe rase
ravira udae jena nalinī vikaśe
to heno sundarī jabe kānu hae pati
tabesi milae jena lakṣmī lakṣmīpati
One's pleasure in love (rasa) increases when one unites with a suitable lover, like a lotus flower blooms with the rising of the sun. When a beautiful woman like you takes Krishna as her husband, then it seems that Lakshmi has been united with Narayana. (33.40-41)
Ah, but love does not flow smoothly... And how pure women are!! Radha refuse categorily to be convinced by Barai.
dekho dui kula mora suryera samāne
ihāte kalaṅka dite cāho kona mane
Both my parental family and my husband's family are as bright as the sun. What makes you want to ruin their reputation? (33.58)
[And of course, these considerations have not died: In the Hindi film mentioned above, the heroine also tells her father that she will not marry the man she loves, but the man who has been arranged for her, all for the sake of the family and her father's reputation. "What will people say, he is the head of the city council, but he can't even control his daughter. What shame will befall you!"]

I am going to make a long story short here. As in the Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana, Barai goes back and forth a couple of times. But whereas in SKK, Krishna sent a gift of tambul that Radha crushed underfoot, insulting Barai and leading to her desire to undermine Radha by destroying her virtue (or something like that), Krishna gives a gajamati hāra, a pearl necklace. Radha refuses it at first, throwing it on the ground (as in SKK), but Barai picks it up and places it around her neck. And Radha finally acknowledges that she will do whatever Barai asks.
tora bole baḍāi mo dilu aṅgīkāra
e tirira dukha sukha saba tora bhāra
e bola śuniyā būḍhi pāila baḍa sukha
lākha lākha cumba dila rādhikāra mukha
O Barai, I agree to your request. This woman's happiness and distress are all in your hands now. Hearing these words, the old lady was very happy and placed thousands of kisses on Radha's face. (34.100)

Thanks to you, my readers

And I would like to add, my friends, that you rare bhaktas who are reading my words, are my life and soul. This is my sankirtan.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Krishna's Purva Raga and Divine Helplessness

I am enjoying Gopala-vijaya more and more as I read it--and that is slowing me down. I still haven't been able to get through to the Dāna-līlā section because each little bit that I reads sets me off into a chain reaction of delight and realization.

Today, I was simply trying to get through chapter 34, where Radha and Krishna's pūrva-rāga is starting to get quite intense. Neither Radha nor Madhava are able to find peace as they contemplate each other in their minds. As much pleasure as it brings them to think of the other, it causes them an anguish that is thousands of times greater. Radha is boxed in by her in-laws and so unable to openly express anything of what she is undergoing to anyone. So powerful is her feeling, it seems as if a potter's furnace is burning inside her.

Krishna too is undergoing the exact same thing.

kāhnāi se khena hoite āna nāhi mane
dekhite se rādhā-maa dekhe vṛndāvane
From that moment on, Krishna was unable to think of anything else. Looking out on Vrindavan, he saw it all as nothing other than Radha. (34.4)
Though he has no business there, Krishna always seems to find himself walking to and fro in front of Ayana's house.

bāṁshīra saṅkete gīta āpanā jānāe
rādhā rūpa-nāma-guṇa tāhātesi gāe
By playing his flute, he let her know of his presence, the music carried on every note her beauty, her name and her qualities.
Krishna dresses in various charming ways in order to attract Radha, but is disappointed when he cannot see her. Radha herself, hearing Krishna wandering around outside her house, feels like a parakeet hopping around inside a cage. Everywhere she looks, there are senior in-laws surrounding her like the bars of a prison.

She tries various excuses to get out; some work and some don't. Fetching water (a nice lowly Cinderella-type task) is one that seems to work. She hefts the pitcher to her shoulder and goes outside alone in the hope of catching sight of Krishna. Still, when they do pass each other by, they can only look and that drives them crazier than ever.

Radha's various movements and gestures madden Krishna. Though her waist knot is already tied, she ties and unties it again and again. She smiles and covers her face with her dupatta. Shyly covering her breasts, she reveals her arms; all of these signs give Krishna some assurance that his feelings are being reciprocated. But they can't seem to progress past this stage.

antare ārati dohe sabe mukha-lāje
madhyastha bihane kabho nahe siddha kāje
loka-bhae beākula rādhikā kāhnāi
rādhikā calilī kānu rahe sei ṭhāi
hena mate kānu anubhaa nānā rase
dubala haiñā jāa dibase dibase
Both were filled with desire, but were too shy to let it be known. Without a go-between, such situations never bear fruit. Both Radha and Kanai were filled with anxiety due to their fear of public opinion; so when Radha walked away, Krishna remained frozen in that spot. In this way, Krishna experienced all kinds of emotions, and as each day passed, he felt himself progressively weakening. (34.18-20)
It is at this point that Krishna sees Barai after many days, and her sight makes him feel like a poor man who has just found a Kamadhenu, wish-fulfilling cow.

Though in principle this Krishna is the same as the one in Chandi Das, he is somehow more vulnerable, softer, more human. Chandi Das's Krishna really is the leather-jacketed punk, James Dean type. Devakinandan's Krishna is Spiderman.


Once again, the central theme to which I return again and again is evident here. But I think it is worth repeating. It is the human face of the Divine that interests the Vaishnavas in the Radha Krishna līlā. As in the verse by Umapati Dhar, which obviously had seeped into the veins of the Bengali Vaishnavas, and is quoted in Padyavali and Ujjvala-nilamani:

saṅketī-kṛta-kokilādi-ninadaṁ kaṁsa-dviṣaḥ kurvato
dvāronmocana-lola-śaṅkha-valaya-kvānaṁ muhuḥ śṛṇvataḥ
keyaṁ keyam iti pragalbha-jaratī-vākyena dūnātmano
rādhā-prāṅgana-koṇa-koli-viṭapi-kroḍe gatā śarvarī
Krishna imitates the sounds of a cuckoo sounds to signal his presence to Radha. She gets out of bed and tiptoes to the door, but as soon as she starts to unlatch the bolt, her conch-ivory bracelets tinkle. Krishna hears this sound with great expectation, but then he hears another sound: Jatila, Radha's wizened mother-in-law, guarding the chastity of her son's wife, wakes up and calls out, "Who's there? Who's there?" Krishna's heart immediately sinks. And this happened again, as Krishna passed the night in a corner of Radha's back yard, hiding in the hollow of a large kadamba tree. (UN 1.18)
There are several lessons I want to draw here and I probably don't have enough space here to do any of them justice. The first is that of aiśvarya and mādhurya: the idea of Krishna experiencing the loss of his power in order to experience rasa. I thought a relevant observation came up this last week, strangely enough in connection with the Sotomayor nomination.

Rick Salutin, one of my favorite columnists at the Globe&Mail, wrote an article about Sotomayor's infamous "wise Latina" comment. Here is the part I think resonates:
There was nothing racist implied by what [Sotomayor] said. It was not about being genetically Latina: it was about being experientially Latina. This includes poverty, deprivation, and discrimination. Anyone who grew up without that experience wouldn't be included by mere virtue of DNA. It is about having lived the life...

Note that she refers to the richness, not the harshness of that experience. It doesn't only embitter, it can enlarge. On a private level, most of us have been through things we'd never have chosen but -- if we handled them or just survived -- that enriched and improved us, put us more in touch with what it is to be human. In a way, it would have been a shame to miss them...

Speaking as a Jew, I think one reason North American Jews identify so powerfully with Israel is a sense that the soulfulness of past Jewish experience is missing in their generally comfortable lives. They'd never want to repeat the horror, but they miss the intensity. This is a familiar enough paradox.

... Perhaps what galls people like [a southern white senator], and made her back off, is not the claim that the Latina would make a better judge, but the chutzpah to say that she has had a richer life. Privileged people often share this sense, but don't expect to have their noses rubbed in it.
Now for me, there is an important message here that is found to some extent in the Christian idea of the "crucified God," and even more in Krishna, the "lovesick God." It strikes archetypal gold when we live the mythical life, but also when we hear about it.

But what is amazing here is the coincidence of the human with the Divine. The conceit of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas is that God makes his own life richer by experiencing it as a human. But the corrollary of that is that the human, in experiencing the fullness of human life, somehow becomes closer to the divine.

Now the bhakti path is about doing this; but it does not mean simply living a heroic human life, or merely experiencing human eros (as the critics of Sahajiyaism would claim), but deliberately experiencing them as sacred, somehow merging one's own experience into the Divine.

It is like the difference between a poet or artist and an ordinary man or woman. The common person experiences love or adventure, but it becomes trite because of the narrowness of his consciousness. By the expansion of consciousness through the culture of both experience and language, the poet makes it possible for even the common person to redefine his own experience as something transcendent. The lovers' special ("they're playing our") song or special movie somehow makes the commonplace, the personal, part of something much larger. And of course, there is the trite, popular culture that barely raises the level at all, but nevertheless plays to the same psychology.

The devotional culture, of on the one hand purifying the self as well as hearing and chanting Radha and Krishna's names, forms, qualities and pastimes, makes it possible to conceive of the sacred character of love. But without the individual experience, the song, the movie, the poem, remain empty. This is the basis for the general ambivalence about Radha and Krishna. I don't think the līlā really means much for most devotees.

The other day Bodhayan Maharaj said to me (repeating an old Gaudiya Math clichéd truism) that without sādhanā, the practitioner cannot enter into Radha and Krishna's līlā any more than a pre-pubescent child can experience sexual pleasure. Leaving aside any theoretical quibbles about child sexuality, let us say that there is an element of truth in it.

But my personal feeling is that it works the other way also. That without having directly had the experience of "the potter's furnace," one is seriously limited in one's ability to relish or even conceive of what is going on in Radha and Krishna līlā. It is the expert combination of the two realms of experience--the bhakti-yoga practice and culture with that of human love (and I must stress) in a sattvika relation, that rasa attains its full flowering.

In summary: Whether or not one is in a relationship, any capacity to relate deeply with Radha and Krishna līlā, in other words to experience rasa, is dependent on both the practice and culture of bhakti and the actual experience of human love.


This post is already getting long, but I am going to include one other thing. Recently someone referred to this blog as "all this esoteric wrangling," as though these discussions were somehow irrelevant to our practical spiritual life. I responded that to me, this is exploring the essence of our tradition. This is not at all irrelevant to the goal, which is to experience prema. There is no question of prema expanding to the social level unless it has been cultivated in the microcosm of individual experience.

Our biggest challenge is to make the myths of Radha and Krishna real and meaningful to people in the present day.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Gopala-vijaya V: Aiana, the Cuckold

Aiana or Abhimanyu is an interesting character, playing a necessary role in this Radha-Krishna drama. According to the Bhagavatam, the husbands of the gopis are all bewildered by Yogamaya and do not even know that the gopis have left their sides--and this even after the gopis ran off, some leaving their husbands waiting for dal to go on their rice, some proffering a deaf ear to their husbands' entreaties.

I got to thinking about Aiana a little more when encountering his personality in GPVJ, where he is something of a more substantial character than in SKK, though still a background or shadow figure nevertheless. Indeed, of Jung's archetype, the Shadow seems the best fit for Abhimanyu.

We have already seen that in GPVJ, Aiana has a position of some importance with the cowherds: He advises Nanda Maharaj with regards to the move to Vrindavan from Gokula; he is the only name amongst the other cowherds when Barai urges the resumption of women going to market. So we have a substantial member of the community, a minister and advisor to Nanda Maharaj.

When Barai Buri gets on Krishna's case for wanting to link up with Radha, she refers to Aiana as senior to Krishna, a guru.

ebe guru-nārī-jana haribāre kaila mana
nāhi cāḍo mukhera caturāi
āpanāra apamāne āpana nā thāko kene
kena āra jhāṁkaho baḍāi
Now you have decided to make off with the wife of a man who is your respectable senior. You don't stop trying to say clever things to convince me. Why don't you consider the ill effects this will have on your reputation and why do you go on glorifying yourself? (32.9)

But often it is said that Aiana has some special standing with Kamsa. Barai says jāhāra vacana kaṁsa pelite nā pare-- "Even Kamsa cannot ignore his statements." (31.40). He is a powerful man (vīra) and widely respected (jagate pūjita) (31.39).

In Vidagdha-mādhava, Govardhana and Abhimanyu are both described as willing to deal with Kamsa to protect their wives against Krishna's predations. As a matter of fact, Rupa Goswami gives a direct role to him, and allows him to be directly fooled by Krishna and the gopis; this we note here, but shan't go into detail as it is somewhat outside the scope of this discussion.

GPVJ does not speak of Aiana as a eunuch, which is a recurring theme in other texts, found specifically in SKK and elsewhere, such as in BVP. Rupa Goswami also says that the gopis' husbands never touched them.

na jātu vraja-devīnāṁ patibhiḥ saha sangamaḥ
The marriages and relations of the cowherd men were all arranged by Maya and thus they were never envious of Krishna. In fact, the goddesses of Vraja never had sexual relations with their [so-called] husbands. (UN 3.32)
Taking all these clues, we can fill out a composite of Aiana's personality, and what we get is the laughable caricature of the archetypal cuckold. In the narration, it is a necessary device that creates sympathy for Radharani and makes her stepping out him forgiveable. It makes him a joke, like all cuckolds in literature throughout history, and only sometimes can you find a bare space for pity. Basically, in the romantic comedy, you can keep unloading as much negativity on him as you like.

In the Vaishnava literature, Abhimanyu is greedy; his only interest (and that of his indulgent and rather unpleasant mother) is increasing his wealth. In GPVJ, he seems to be more interested in social stature and power, but the sum and substance is the same: He is someone who is more interested in worldly affairs than in his wife, whom he neglects.

In GPVJ, this has already deteriorated to a situation of nuptial emptiness. :

hena rūpe janamiā goālāra kule
tore svāmī kari dila bhāṇḍuā goāle
murūkhera ṭhāi guṇa adhika āśoāthe
mālatī paḍila jena bānarera hāthe
Such a beauty has taken birth amongst the cowherds, but your parents gave you in marriage to a buffoon cowherd. Fools cannot recognize true virtue; it is like a beautiful flower falling into the hands of a monkey.
In a somewhat ambivalent statement, Radha's sakhi tells Krishna

ghṛnāe āiana bīre kāca nāhi jāe
se rādhikā kona guṇe bhajiba tohmāe
kāca kāñcane kabhoṁ nā hae milana
neāli daḍite nahe mukuṭa gāthana
Radha does not go near Aiana (such a highly qualified person!) out of disgust, so what makes you think that she will be attracted to you? Glass does not belong with gold, nor does one string pearls on rough hemp rope. (31.45-46)
Here, on the one hand, the sakhi is apparently attempting to ward Krishna off by emphasizing Radha's purity and disinterest in sex, while at the same hinting at the disgust she has for her husband.

So the composite is the picture of a marriage where there is no love: the husband is preoccupied with worldly wealth and ambition, and he has attained considerable success, but is unappealing romantically, neglectful and even impotent. And this is without even speaking of the dreadful family situation.

niḥśvāsa chāḍite bāṭa nāhi mora ghare
michā kāje bharachae nānā parakāre
gṛha-pati duramati sadāi chidra cāhe
vicārite tirie puruṣe nāhi jāe
deora nanada eko jana nahe bhālo
chitusa cāhiyā niti karāe khāṅkhāra
jiṅata māchete krimi pāḍe parijane
jata dekho mora bali nāhi eka jane
I haven't even got a place to breathe in my house. I am given trivial tasks for which I am always being criticized. My husband is wicked and always finding fault with me. As far as men and women are concerned, he doesn't even think about it. [Not quite sure what is intended here.] No one of my brothers and sisters-in-law is a good person. They are always looking for something to argue about or to blame. Just like insects swarm over a still living fish, all these other relatives surround me. I cannot say that a single one of them is on my side. (34.83-86)
So when a dashing and worthy hero like Krishna comes on the scene and is aggressively attracted to her, who can doubt that the passions hidden in her heart will be awakened? And who will not forgive her for so doing?

All this is from the purely material angle, which is not to be disparaged. But devotees know the subtext: Aiana is a symbol of the false masculine, i.e., ahankara--the idea of being the doer, owner and enjoyer. Like Ravana attempting to own and enjoy Sita, the World can never be the true owner of the Soul. Abhimanyu ("the proud and insidious") is the false master, whether within one's own psychic universe or within the external world. He is the false promise of worldly power, accomplishment and happiness, but who is ultimately impotent.

The metaphor is so powerful in purely archetypal terms. The yearning for romantic love and the yearning for God are so conflated that it is easy to see how they become confused.

C.S. Lewis points out that romantic love, no matter how powerful on this psychic level, remains an idol or false god if we think that it can replace the true God. But here we enter into some complex ethical questions about the value of other human beings and our individual rights, religion, ethics and spirituality. The woman or man who abandons a partner, whether for God or for a lover, at some point has to reduce the rejected partner to a caricature, has to abandon "empathy" and drop the guillotine of personal interest on its neck.

This is Abhimanyu, supported by Kutila and Jatila, who keep me imprisoned in my home, never to see the sun, hiding me from my Krishna. They may all be devastated by my rejection; I can understand their reasons, as real people, for their attachments to something that is not the truth, but at some point, I have to save myself. And one "hardens one's heart." Sarva-dharmān parityajya.

yat paty-apatya-suhṛdām anuvṛttir aṅga
strīṇāṁ sva-dharma iti dharma-vidā tvayoktam
astv evam etad upadeśa-pade tvayīśe
preṣṭho bhavāṁs tanu-bhṛtāṁ kila bandhur ātmā
O dear one! You have instructed us to be devoted to our husbands and families, telling us that this is the religious duty of every woman. You know the truth of religious matters, so you are justified in saying it. But we turn this instruction around to make it fit you, the giver of the instruction, the Lord. For you are the true beloved, the true friend and soul of all creatures. (10.29.32)

Empathy and Feminism

The way I see feminism is this: The feminine qualities are valuable and ennobling. It is not that women must compete with men as men, but rather that the natural feminine perspective should be given a place of honor rather than being denigrated as inferior. In other words, society itself should be restructured according to feminine values, which are, in the final analysis, the truly civilizing values.

A good example of the bias against the feminine is being illustrated in the troglodyte conservative take on Sonia Sotomayor, Obama's nominee to the US Supreme Court, which has centered on the idea of "empathy" as a negative. In the hearings, Sotomayor played the game by saying that a judge decides on the basis of "facts" on the one hand, and the "law" on the other.

But what is missing here is that the "facts" include an entire empathic dimension. Do the facts of a particular case not include the entire psychological situation of all the players? And does Justice, i.e., Fairness, itself not include an empathetic understanding of the individuals involved, in particular those who are victims?

Empathy was being used as a code word to delegitimize Sotomayor as a woman. But in fact, it is exactly the empathetic qualities of womanhood that are needed to soften the society that often legitimizes the most obscene aspects of masculinity--competition and war.

Gopala-vijaya IV: Barai Buri

We have had some occasion to discuss the Barai Buri in an earlier post (The Play in Chandrasekhara's House). She makes her appearance, on cue, in chapter 30 of GPVJ, after Radha and her friends have been getting dressed.

It is also worthy of note here that Radha is surrounded by friends in a way that she is not in Gita Govinda (where there are competitors and only one faceless friend acts as go-between) or SKK (where the sakhis are insignificant). A sakhi named Chandramukhi plays a role in the next chapter also.

In chapter 30, after Radha and her sakhis have dressed themselves and look like "the dancing girls of heaven" (svargera nācanī), they are joined by Barai Buri. She is described in the classical way that the procuress or bawd is in much earlier works like Kuṭṭanī-mata. Some of the items I liked: Her teeth are like a row of garlic buds (rasunera gajā jena daśana-śikhare)! Her eyes are like those of an owl in a hollow tree. She is, of course, bent over completely. She appears to be still married, as she has the red mark in her hair part, though her hair is completely white. The description concludes with the following verse:

heno rūpa āgu jāi prāṇera baḍāi
jeno mūrtimāna hāsya bhūmite beḍāi
The beloved old lady walked ahead [of the gopis] looking like, this--the personification of laughter walking on the Earth.
Now the intention of mūrtimān hāsya might be better expressed as "the incarnation of the comic rasa."

This is pretty instructive. As an ancient tradition in India (as I already said, the old woman, in particular the dissolute aged prostitute in Kuṭṭanī-mata and other works of the genre) is an object of laughter. I remember quite clearly one boy about ten years old we had in the Mayapur Gurukula would bend over like a hunchback, as a Buri. In fact, it is not rare to see older Bengali women who at some point are no longer able to straighten up, as they have spent so much of their life crouching, bending over to do household tasks.

Photo by Harry Peronius, found at

We don't get her as a relative to Krishna here, as in SKK where she is related to both, and as such makes a good go-between. At the same time, Devakinandan's Barai is nothing like the vindictive old hag in SKK. Chandidas's Krishna asks Barai to act as a go-between, but not nearly as respectfully as Devakinandan's. Krishna says,

śiśu-kāla hoite baḍāi jāni saba ṭhāi
prāṇake adhika more bāsaha baḍāi
saba goālāra tuhmi kulera gosāñī
tohmāra āśiṣe kabhu mana duskha nāi
"I have known you since the time of my childhood [an alternate reading says: "you have fulfilled my desires since my childhood"], so you are more to me than life itself. You are the spiritual master [Gosani] of all the cowherd community and anyone who gets your blessings never needs suffer." (31.68-69)
And a bit later, after describing briefly his own glories and accomplishments, he admits that despite it all he has been affected by Radharani's glances and has lost his composure.

As in SKK, he claims not to know who she is. I speculate that perhaps the incident earlier where Ma Yashoda gets angry with Radha (see previous post, introduction to GPVJ) lead to a long period of not seeing each other. This would be the way to make the two versions coincide. Anyway, after this admission, Krishna takes shelter of Badai,

nānā bhae saba tribhuvana āhmi tāri
se āhmi śaraṇa tome rākhaha murāri
"I save the world from all manner of fear, but I am taking shelter of you. Please save Murari." (31.89)
Barai then chastizes Krishna for wanting to enter into a relationship with a married woman. ("Up until now you got away with it because you were just a little kid. But now if you start to play the rake..."). Again, this is unlike SKK where Barai is actively encouraging Krishna. But, and here Krishna looks a little more like Chandidas's version, Devakinandan says,

buḍhira bharchhane se bharchhana nāhi māne
kāmātura lāja nāñi saba loka jāne
Krishna paid no attention to Barai's chastisements. Everyone knows that a person suffering the pangs of lust has no shame. (31.101)
In the next chapter, the same theme continues. Krishna says to Barai, I defeated gods like Indra and killed various demons, he says to Barai,

śiśu-kāla hoite baḍāi jāni saba ṭhāi
prāṇake adhika more bāsaha baḍāi
saba goālāra tuhmi kulera gosāñī
tohmāra āśiṣe kabhu mana duskha nāi
"I have known you since the time of my childhood [an alternate reading says: "you have fulfilled my desires since my childhood"], so you are more to me than life itself. You are the spiritual master [Gosani] of all the cowherd community and anyone who gets your blessings never needs suffer." (32.5)
Barai herself says:

hera kahi dāmodara āhmā nā bāsiha para
āhmi tora marame bhitare
tora guṇe siddha kāje āmi upalakṣya mājhe 
ārati nā koriha antare
Listen to me, Damodar. Don't think of me as someone who is not on your side. I am inside your most intimate desires. But ultimately [and isn't this nice] you will be successful because of your own virtues and I can only act as an external instrument. So don't be worried about what will happen. (32.13)
Later again, when Barai has gone to attempt to convince Radha, Krishna awaits her return:

kṣidāe adanta vatsa jena cāhe māe
hena mate kāhnāi baḍāi pāne cāe
Like a baby who has yet to grow a tooth looks towards his mother, so Kanai looked at Badai. (35.4)
Anyway, Barai is definitely recognizable as the hag archetype, which here combines that pitiful state of aged woman, with simultaneous mystic powers (a witch), but tempered here with a kindly wisdom.

Barai's status is much greater in GPVJ compared to SKK, where she is given a more "human" touch. In GPVJ, in order to reestablish the gopis' trips to Mathura, and thereby arrange the possibility of the Dana-lila, Barai goes to Nanda Maharaj and has him organize a meeting with all the men to promote the idea. At this assembly, where Aihana is an important participant, she is the principal speaker.

Basing her knowledge on information received from Akrura, she says that she has heard various criticisms of the cowherds from Mathura. Kamsa is saying that Nanda Maharaj and the cowherds have become puffed up and think that their womenfolk should be kept in seclusion like queens and so have forbidden them from going to the Mathura market to sell their goods. The gopis themselves look down their noses at the dairy products. Nanda thinks he has become a king. Because of this, Kamsa has not been getting the requisite taxes. Akrura advised that Krishna and Balaram should go into the forest separately [to avoid the dangers of assassination] and the gopis should start going to Mathura with dairy goods.

Everyone agrees and the stage is set for Dana-lila.

My point in relation to Barai is that she expands into the whole lila, and all the lila parikaras in Rupa Goswami. In the first instance we have Radha + Krishna, then Yogamaya, then the sakhi, and then all the sakhis, sakhas and manjaris. More will no doubt follow.

Gopala-vijaya III: Purva-raga

We got as far as the beginning of chapter 30. The previous chapter contained the gopis' reactions to Krishna's beauty. Note the difference to SKK where Krishna is described as lust-mad and Radha's pūrva-rāga is totally ignored. Since GPVJ follows the Radha-is-older-than-Krishna (O God I am going to use this word!) meme, it is hard to talk about a classical pūrva-rāga format. Nevertheless, Rupa Goswami presents what is the classical position in Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi:

api mādhava-rāgasya prāthamye sambhavaty api |
ādau rāge mṛgākṣīṇāṁ prokte syāt cārutādhikā
Although it is possible that Krishna’s love can come first, there is more charm in describing the love of the doe-eyed gopis first. (UN 15.16)
ādau rāgaḥ striyā vācyaḥ paścāt puṁsas tad-ingitaiḥ
First one should describe the love the woman has for the man, and the man’s love should follow on cue. (SD 3.195)
A full verse, which is similar to this one, is also quoted in Vishnudas's commentary to UN 15.16:

ādau nārī bhaved raktā pumān paścāt tad-iṅgitaiḥ |
anyathāpi na doṣaḥ syād yadi prema samaṁ dvayoḥ
The woman [in the dramatic work] should fall in love first, and the man afterwards, on cue. But there is no fault if it happens otherwise, as long as the two are equal in their love.
However we may look at it, what makes SKK a little different is the unevenness of the love: Krishna's love is more like classical lust: He is burning with desire for Radha and she is reluctant to respond. When she does, her love seems to become stronger than his and he even betrays her in the end by placing duty over love.

It is interesting that archetypal love as described in the Sanskrit tradition includes the various kinds of separation (i.e., "defects"), and the Vaishnava tradition debates whether or not these defects can be accommodated in the supreme archetype of love. (Rupa Goswami goes so far as to insult those who think they cannot by calling them a-pūrva-rasikas). But on this point, i.e., pūrva-rāga  Rupa is unequivocal: Radha or any gopi's and Krishna's love is eternal. It may externally arise through different impetuses, but these are just for the sake of interest (i.e. rasa) in the prakata-lila.

abhiyogād viṣayataḥ sambandhād abhimānataḥ |
sā tadīya-visheṣebhya upamātaḥ svabhāvataḥ |
ratir āvirbhaved eṣām uttamatvaṁ yathottaram ||
Rati for both the gopis and Krishna develops (1) when one or the other lover reveals in his love (abhiyoga), from seeing, hearing, touching, etc., the object of love (viṣayataḥ), by some relationship, i.e., by some resemblance in qualities (sambandha), through a determined insistence (abhimāna), through things connected to him, such as his footprints, associates, dhama, etc. (tadīya-viśeṣa), by analogy (upamAna), and spontaneously (svabhāva). These are progressively superior. (UN 14.42)
[By the way, though these are a little difficult to understand in this context, they might all be said to be causes for the sādhaka in rāgānugā bhakti also and should be thus cultivated in the sādhaka's imaginary life.]

proktā atrābhiyogādyā vilāsādhikya-hetave |
ratiḥ svabhāvajaiva syāt prāyo gokula-subhruvām ||
The different cause of love have been described here for the sake of expanding the diversions, but the beautiful-browed women of Gokula all have, practically speaking, spontaneous love for Krishna. (UN 14.42)
Anyway, in GPVJ, there has been a move towards the classical formulation (as indeed is there in the Bhāgavatam , with the difference that in the Bhāgavatam, Krishna's love for the gopis is never described in passionate terms. The gopis are passionate for Krishna, OK, but he is never totally human in his passion for them. He is responding to their love, not caught up in it. In other words, we are moving to a compromise position between the human and the aiśvarya-maya Divine.

Gopala-vijaya II

I have been asked by some to shorten my posts--when I make them. It is tough for me and I often leave posts unpublished because I don't want to post anything that is incomplete or trite. This is why I have so many unpublished posts languishing. Sometimes I go back and just post them as they are and I will probably go and do that with my backlog one of these days, when the inspiration hits me.

Right now, the Gopāla-vijaya is presenting its own challenges. I wanted to finish the section on Dana-lila yesterday, but I am finding the language a bit difficult. There is a great deal of archaic vocabulary, and even though there is a good glossary in the back, there are times when neither this glossary, nor the dictionary, nor the glossary in SKK (the language of which is very similar and probably from the same region of Bengal), are helpful. There are also occasional syntax problems. On their own, these might not be too disruptive, but sometimes there is a series of verses in which incomprehension accumulates. I don't think I would be able to translate it without help from an expert.

The chapters in this edition of the Gopāla-vijaya are not numbered, so I have given them numbers based on the signature verses. Where Kavisekhara concludes a section with his own name and a statement of the glories of the Gopāla-vijaya, I have called it a chapter and given it a number.

As stated in the last post, the first 27 chapters cover pretty much the same material as the first 28 chapters of the Tenth Canto. In other words, everything that precedes the rāsa-līlā. There are some extra anecdotes, some extra descriptions, but the amount of prayers is much reduced. It is arguable that in the Bhāgavatam, the stories are just a vehicle for the philosophical sections, which are primarily found in the prayers and stavas—e.g. 10.2 (prayers of the gods to Krishna in the womb), 10.3 (Vasudeva and Devaki’s prayers to the newborn Krishna), 10.8 (Garga’s prayers), 10.10 (Nalakuvera and Manigriva), 10.14 (Brahma-stava), 10.16 (Kaliya and his wives), 10.21 (Venu-gita), 10.24 (Indra-stava, Surabhi-stava), 10.28 (Varuna’s prayers), etc. So there is really a substantial chunk of even this portion of the Tenth Canto that is philosophical or theological in nature.

All of the early Bengali reworkings of the Tenth Canto, three of which I have some knowledge, are characterized by an interest in the lilas at the expense of the philosophy. (Call it that old “skipping straight to the Tenth Canto” syndrome.) This can also be said of the Gopāla-campū—with the exception, of course, of all of Jiva Goswami's arguments in support of Krishna's return to Vrindavan and getting married to the gopis. But then, the theological strengths and subtleties of the Bhāgavatam have been made clear in Jiva Goswami’s six Sandarbhas.

So, according to this count, there are 81 chapters in GPVJ, covering principally Krishna's Vraja-lila. It ends with Krishna’s return to Vrindavan after Uddhava’s visit there to bring the gopis Krishna's message. The one SKK manuscript that has been found is incomplete and finishes with Krishna’s departure from Vrindavan. There has been some speculation about how Chandi Das may have finished his account. Neither Maladhar Basu nor Bhagavatacharya went there, remaining faithful to the Bhāgavatam version. However, traditionally, most of the lila kirtans describing the theme of Krishna's departure for Mathura (māthura) have a final song in which Krishna does return and Radha and Krishna are reunited. Since Devakinandan also finishes with a brief description of the reunion, it stands to reason that Chandi Das also did. Thus, although Jiva Goswami uses exclusively Sanskrit sources to argue his points about the great return and samṛddhimān sambhoga, the primary inspiration for his magnum opus was probably this folk tradition.

So, after the 27 preliminary chapters related to Krishna's Vrindavan-lila, Devakinandan's primary interest, the madhura-lila, i.e., corresponding to the Rasa-lila chapters, which are only five in number in the Bhāgavatam, is expanded in GPVJ to 38 chapters, i.e., the entire section from chapters 28 to 66. However, besides the Rasa-lila, these include the Dana, Nauka, Vamsi and many of the other topics dealt with in SKK. Once again, though there is much worth looking at in this stuff, I want to concentrate on the dana-lila section, which covers chapters 35 to 42, pages 148 to 175. However, to get there, I spent yesterday reading chapters 28-35. I will just try to arrange my notes on that material here.


The section begins with Krishna going out into the village all dressed up in his natavara vesh, extensively described. He looks like millions of incarnation of Kamadeva. This is called his vijaya. He calls his friends with the flute. It sounds a bit like Gauranga's sankirtan, going from door to door to spread the Holy Name. I wonder if there could be a connection.

Chapter 29. When they hear that Krishna is out and about, the gopis decide to dress up for him, after all, who could hold back? Here, the symptoms of the early rasa--indifference to household duties, etc., are described. Since we haven't gotten to the rasa lila yet, we cannot say what happens there. There is a whole section of which the following verses are typical:

keho bale kula kari sṛjila kona vidhi
se kāraṇe hāthe hāthe hārāilo nidhi
keho bale je ha:u se ha:u parivāde
se kānura pada nā chāḍibo paramāde
keho bale e janame eho tapa kari
nupura haiyā thāki dui pāe dhari
Some gopi said, "What God created the family, for which reason I am deprived of this jewel (Krishna) who is present before me?" Another said, "Whatever people say, I don't care. I will not abandon Krishna's feet, even by mistake." Another said, "In this lifetime, I will perform austerities so that I can become his ankle bells in my next life, and remain holding his feet all the time."
This style, by the way, "keho bole..." repeated, is quite typical in the literature of the time, e.g., Caitanya-bhāgavata  The last verse quoted (29.34) is the kind of thing that I don't think you would see at all in Sri Kṛṣṇa-kīrtana, and can be attributed to the Bhāgavata influence.

Chapter 30 starts with an interesting verse:

sahaje svatantara goālāra nārī
ghare guru jane trina buddhi nāhi kari
The cowherd women are naturally independent and don't give a hoot for their authorities in the home. (30.2)
I think this deserves a little comment. This is a statement about class. The brahmin community tried to maintain a high standard of cultural behavior based on purity. Of all purities, sexual purity was given perhaps the highest value of all. By attributing a spirit of independence to cowherd women, this both reflects the standards of the dominant community as well as a certain envy. It is a bit like the ambivalence of whites to blacks that was prevalent in America: "Whites are (of course) superior in every way, but those darkies seem to have a lot of fun dancing and having sex." A dark ambivalence.

Let me just say this for now: the social and historical circumstances in which the Radha and Krishna story develops are significant to me. Though the interpretation of history is a fluid matter, one thing is certain: Documents are real, even if we cannot understand them completely. There is always an unstated subtext that we have to attempt to decode. In my opinion, the conscious or unconscious subtext of all Radha and Krishna lila is the edification or apotheosis of human love.

Though I don't think Devakinandan is a Sahajiya (Vaishnava Sahajiyaism did not yet exist), he reveals the ground in which Sahajiyaism took birth. I have already mentioned that the GPVJ takes Bhāgavata elements, but plays down the theology and emphasizes the rasa.

Rasa cannot be produced without a sense of identification. The sense of identification produced by philosophical reasoning is only partially helpful. What it does in this case is give a boost to the natural appreciation of the human-like loves by investing them with a divine aura.

In the interest of shortening my posts, I will stop here and go on with this segment in a later one.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Introduction to Gopala-vijaya

The Gopāla-vijaya by Devakinandan Singh Kavishekhar is an interesting work for several reasons, but mostly because it seems to represent a response to Radha Krishna and the Bhāgavatam in Bengal which is roughly contemporary to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu without necessarily being directly influenced by him.

As is often the case, we have sparse historical information that can reliably pinpoint the author’s dates. So, Durgesh Bandyopadhyaya, the editor of this fine critical edition (Shanti Niketan: Vishwa Bharati, 1966) goes through an extensive discussion of the author’s dates without giving sufficient weight to the one piece of hard evidence: Devakinandan Singh, known for his literary skills as Kavishekhar, worked in the courts of both Hussein Shah (1493-1519) and Nusrat Shah (1519-1533).

This makes him an exact contemporary of Chaitanya and a neighbor of Rupa and Sanatan at about the time that they leave for Vrindavan. But since he is not named as an associate of Chaitanya, we must consider him as likely being influenced by the devotional upsurge of the time without being a direct participant.

Kavisekhara (who is not to be confused with later poets writing with that or similar titles, e.g., Shekhara Ray) was the son of Chaturbhuja. We know of an author of that name who also lived and worked at the Gauda court and wrote a Sanskrit work on Krishna’s life called Hari-caritam. These bits of information are particularly interesting since it shows that Rupa and Sanatan as well as Jiva Goswami, etc., were living in an environment that had strong Vaishnava influences. Kavisekhara wrote at least two other works (Gopāla-kīrtanāmṛta, Gopīnātha-vijaya-nāṭaka), but only Gopāla-vijaya seems to have survived.

Since Bandyopadhyaya had access to eight complete manuscripts with numerous variant readings, it would appear that Gopāla-vijaya attained considerable popularity, usurping earlier works like Chandidas’s SKK. Although I have not been able to prove it, I have stated before that there is some evidence that the Bhāgavata was not widely known, or at least not widely influential.

The earliest Bhāgavata manuscript in Northeastern India is dated 1417 a.d., and is signed by Maithili Vidyapati, the famous songwriter appreciated by Mahaprabhu. In literature, the influence of the Bhāgavata in Bengal first appears in Maladhar Basu’s Sri-krishna-vijaya. Gita-govinda may have indirect influence of the Bhāgavatam  but it really belongs to folk traditions, like Sri Krishna Kirtan. The abovementioned Hari-caritam also seems based entirely on Hari-vaṁśa and Viṣṇu-purāṇa.

Gopāla-vijaya is an attempt to harmonize the folk and Bhāgavata traditions—just as was done by the Goswamis, who elaborated lilas and participated in the evolution of a Radha-Krishna lila that has theological roots in the Bhāgavata  but which assimilates details and pastimes that arise out of the folk traditions. The dāna-līlā is a prominent example of one of these, and that is why we are interested in it.

Gopala-vijaya thus differs from SKK or GG in the sense that it structures the whole Krishna story in line with the Bhāgavata. But you have to look where the heart of the Gopāla-vijaya lies. In the Gaudiya Math we always heard about not skipping directly to the Tenth Canto, but this is exactly what Maladhar Vasu and Devakinandan both do. However, whereas Basu sticks faithfully to the Bhāgavata narrative, Devakinandan inserts snippets of stuff that we recognize from Padyāvalī and Sadukti-karnāmṛta as original themes that grew out of the folk tradition.

  • Radharani is older than Krishna. I don’t know where this particular theme comes from. It is found in Gita-govinda and Brahma-vaivarta-purāṇa, but BVP is NOT older than GG. Indeed, BVP probably dates from around the same period as the Gopala-vijaya  and Hajari Prasad Dvivedi has shown with some authority that the extant version was probably written in Bengal. The Garga-saṁhitā, which is later than any of these and appears to be directly influenced by BVP, also has this idea of Radha being older than Krishna, but clearly it has not been accepted in Gaudiya Vaishnava orthodoxy.

    In Padyāvalī, there is a section (verses 135-139) called “showing precocious signs of adolescence while a baby” (śaiśave tāruṇyam). [These have all been quoted in Bhakti-ratnākara (Brk), though the theme does not appear in Gopāla-campū or anywhere else that I can think of.

    For the purpose of this article and the pleasure of the readers, I am including all these verses here with new translations.

    adharam adhare kaṇṭhaṁ kaṇṭhe sa-cāṭu dṛśau dṛśor
    alikam alike kṛtvā gopī-janena sa-sambhramam |
    śiśur iti rudan kṛṣṇo vakṣaḥ-sthale nihitaś cirān
    nibhṛta-pulakaḥ smeraḥ pāyāt smarālasa-vigrahaḥ ||
    May that Krishna who was fondled as a baby
    by the cowherdesses, who pressed lip to lip,
    neck to neck, eye to eye, and forehead to forehead,
    and who, when he cried, held him to their bosom
    and consequently experienced a thrill of his love-affected body,
    smiling all the while, protect us all.
    (Padyāvalī 135, Divakara, SKM 1.51.4; Brk 5.1751)

    brūmas tvac-caritaṁ tavādhijanani cchadmātibālyākṛte
    tvaṁ yādṛg giri-kandareṣu nayanānandaḥ kuraṅgī-dṛśām |
    ity uktaḥ parilehana-cchalatayā nyastāṅguliḥ svānane
    gopībhiḥ purataḥ punātu jagatīm uttāna-supto hariḥ ||
    “We will tell Your mother what you do
    delighting the eyes of the doe-eyed girls
    in the caves of Govardhana,
    disguised as nothing more than a tiny baby,
    you enjoy amorous pastimes with the doe-eyed girls.”
    May baby Krishna, spoken to thus by the gopis
    place a finger in His mouth and suck on it,
    lying stretched out on the bed before them,
    and thus purify the entire world.
    (Padyāvalī 136, Vanamali, SKM 1.51.5)

    vanamālini pitur aṅke
    racayati bālyocitaṁ caritam |
    smita-paripāṭī parisphurati ||
    While Vanamali on His father's lap,
    acts in ways suitable to a child,
    the brand new gopi brides
    blossom with seductive smiles.
    (Padyāvalī 137, Mukunda Bhattacharya, Brk 5.1752)

    nītaṁ nava-navanītaṁ kiyad
    iti kṛṣṇo yaśodayā pṛṣṭḥ |
    iyad iti guru-jana-savidhe
    vidhṛta-dhaniṣṭhā-payodharaḥ ||
    When Yashoda asked Krishna:
    "How much fresh butter did you take?"
    "This much," he said to all the grown-ups,
    as he fondled Dhanishtha's breast.
    (Padyāvalī 138, Ranga, Brk 5.1753)

    kva yāsi nanu caurike pramuṣitaṁ sphuṭaṁ dṛśyate
    dvitīyam iha māmakaṁ vahasi kañcuke kandukam |
    tyajeti nava-gopikā-kuca-yugaṁ nimathnan balāl
    lasat-pulaka-maṇḍalo jayati gokule keśavaḥ ||
    “Thief, where do you think you’re going?
    Haven’t you been caught stealing?
    In your bodice you are hiding my second ball!
    Give it to me!" So saying,
    he forcefully pummeled the young gopi's breasts,
    his hairs standing up over his body. All glories to Keshava!
    (Padyāvalī 139, Dipaka, Spd 74, Smv; Brk 5.1754)

    In GPVJ (Gopāla-vijaya), this comes up on page 54, where Radha is mentioned for the first time.

    marama jāniā śeṣe rādhikā sundarī
    prabodhiā niā bule kole chāpi dhari
    After no one else was able to calm Krishna, the beautiful Radhika, understanding his mind, finally took him and held him to her breast, walking back and forth with calming words. (12.26)
    They go to a secluded place where rasika Krishna shows his nāgara-panā and starts to kiss her, embarassing Radha when she starts to feel an erotic reaction heno rasa anubhae āpanā pāsari / lāja bhae byākulī hoilī rādhā nārī. Radha gets nervous and so Krishna kindly falls asleep. When Radha lays him down, Mother Yashoda and others ask her to lie down with him, holding him tightly. And this went on on a regular basis. (12.27-35)

  • In the next chapter, also, it says that Krishna when herding the cows would tease and flirt on the path with the cowherd women, refered to here as para-nārī. (13.35, page 57).

  • Then, in an interesting passage on page 60, Krishna goes missing one day and cannot be found. Mother Yashoda looks for him everywhere and becomes anxious. So she goes to Radha and Aihana’s house and chastises Radha at some length. The reason is that Krishna has become so attached to her than he “abandons his mother and father and leaves them at home.” (13.82-87). And she threatens to keep Krishna locked up in the house.

    Radha answers (13.89-92) that she is not at fault, that Krishna is just playing with his friends, and tells Yashoda to keep him locked up if that is what she wants. Yashoda is angry at this reaction and leaves. A few moments later, she finds Krishna who is indeed with his friends and the cows. Krishna immediately recognizes his mother’s state and jumps into her arms, but at the same time, he smiles at Radha. māera hṛdaya bujhi catura kāhnāi / kole jhāṁpa dila hāsi rādhā pāne cāi //. The chapter concludes with the words kapaṭa-bālaka-veśe, which is similar to Padyāvalī 136 above.

  • It is worth mentioning that Aiana (aiāna, also spelt, aana) is given a role in the discussions that lead to Nanda Maharaj moving the community from Gokula, and actually suggests taking everyone to Vrindavan. [In Gopāla-campu, this role is played by Upananda.]

  • On p.83, Krishna is awakened by his mother to go on the goṣṭha, but he gets up on hearing Radha's name. (19.7-8)

  • The description of Vastra-harana, which does not include the promise of the Rasa dance, mentions no Radha. This is clearly because Radha in GPVJ is already married, as is the case in the Goswamis' version also.

  • Last but not least in this pre-rāsa-līlā section, is on p. 115, during the description of lifting Govardhan. Here again, we are reminded of verse 267 from the Padyāvalī, where Krishna looks at Radha's breast while holding up Govardhan and starts to tremble, making everyone fearful that he was about to drop it.

    sei chale gopīnāthe, beḍhiā dakṣiṇa hāthe
    mandāra-dhāraṇa phala pāe
    tāhe aparūpa dekhi, rādhā-kucha-giri dekhi
    kāpe kṛṣṇana jāni ki bhae
On page 118-119, Krishna's coming of age is described. He can think of nothing other than the gopis, and they too, even though married and living in their homes, cannot concentrate on their duties as they hear and think of him.

There are many other things that could be looked at in relation to the Gopāla-vijaya and other books--a closer look at what has been added and what dropped, the vocabulary of the language itself--to what extent are words like prema, bhakti and rasa, etc., being used. But for the time being, let us consider the next section, from chapters 28-42, which include the dāna-līlā.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Excerpt from CCMK

I just came across this little bit of translation from the sixth sarga of Chaitanya Charitamrita Mahakavya by Kavi Karnapur. It seems to have come from a bit of correspondence I was having with someone. Can't remember when this was or with whom I discussed it. So I am just posting it here for the heck of it.

The problem is the thorny one of the relation of Mayavada to Gaudiya Vaishnava theology.

adhyAtma-tattvam abhi gaura-mahAprabhuH sa
vyAkhyAM cakAra bahu-durgama-bodham anyaiH |
eko’vashiSyata ihAvirataM sa AtmA
sriSTau sa eva punar ekaka eva bhAti ||63||
Gauranga Mahaprabhu then started a discourse on metaphysical topics (adhyAtma-tattva), one that was not easily understandable to ordinary people. He said, “The soul is the only thing that never comes to an end. The soul alone remains after universal dissolution, and after creation it is the soul alone that becomes manifest.”
itthaM prasArya sva-karau karuNA-samudro
muSTIcakAra ca punar drutam eva nrityan
sac-cit-svarUpam atha tattva-nirUpaNaM tad
bhUyo jagAda jagad eka-gatiH prakAmam ||64||
Having said this, the ocean of mercy spread his fingers as he continued to dance. Then the only refuge of the universe made his hands into fists and once again started to explain the eternal spiritual supreme in many ways.
[The spreading of fingers, etc., is perhaps explained in v. 66 below.]

bhAvo’pi nishcitam anarthaka eva tasya
sad-rUpam eva sudhiyAm avadhAraNIyam |
yad brahmaNo bhavati naiva kadApi muktir
ekatvam etad avabodham rite hi sA syAt ||65||
Though this transformation as the creation (bhAvaH) is certainly without any true meaning (anarthaka eva), those whose intelligence is clear (sudhI) should know that this too is a true form of the Lord (tasya sad-rUpam eva). Without recognizing the oneness of Brahman, no one can ever attain liberation.
[There appear to be several conflicting ideas in this verse. On the one hand the universe has no meaning, and then it is said to be a form of the Lord. I would assume this is an allusion to the Chatuhshloki verse. As to the last line, I recently just read something similar in Bhagavat-sandarbha, but since I will have to rummage for it, I will come back with it later.

pashyAngulI kara-gate punar ekakasya
seko’mritena nicitAM parilocitAM ca |
anyAM vraNena galatAtirAm avadyAM
no pashyati kshaNam api prakaTaM ghriNArtaH ||66||

Pran Krishna Goswami translates as follows:
Just look -- a person has two fingers, one has been sprinkled with ambrosia, the other is leprous. But he does not look at the latter with disgust, despite the leprosy. In other words, he accepts both as being a part of his body. So the sAkAravAdI should not hate the nirAkAravAdI.
This conclusion is odd. In the context, it appears that ekaka = Brahman , as in v.64. So it seems that Karnapura is talking about the spiritual and material creations, or the liberated and conditioned souls. Both are parts of Brahman and therefore non-different from Brahman.

At any rate, for me, it would seem that the argument is that there is no true spirituality without the realizations that are normally associated with Brahma-vada--namely the underlying unity of God and his creation. Those who emphasize difference throughout are ultimately deprived even of bhakti as much as those who emphasize oneness at the expense of difference.

itthaM sa eka iha sheSa-padaM hy anAdir
AtmA sadaiva parishiSyata evam eSaH |
sopAdhir eva bhavati prakaTAd upAdher
mukto’nyathA sa khalu kashchid apIha jIvaH ||67||

Your [can't remember who I was dialoging with] translation appears to be based on Pran Krishna Goswami’s Bengali translation, which I am also using.
In this way, that one eternal Atman will remain as shesha [i.e., this one eternal Atman will exist after the dissolution of the worlds], it is the Brahman with upAdhi (guNa) that emerges out of upadhi, otherwise that Brahman with upadhi is also called jiva."
It’s a tough verse to read because of all the small words and broken up phrases; it therefore is open to interpretation. The best way seems to be to take each line as a discrete sentence. My reading is as follows:

itthaM iha sa eka sheSa-padaM hi,
evam eSa anAdiH AtmA sadaiva parishiSyata
prakaTAd upAdheH sopAdhiH eva bhavati,
anyathA sa kashcid apIha jIvaH khalu mukto [bhavati] ||
Thus, in this world, the one beginningless soul is to be called “sheSa” because He alone remains throughout eternity [even after universal dissolution] . With the manifestation of upAdhi, that same soul becomes conditioned (sopAdhi). Otherwise, if that upAdhi is not manifest, the occasional rare living being in this world becomes liberated.
COMMENT: The entire passage seems to take a primarily advaita point of view, despite the subsequent glorification of devotion and devotional ecstasy. The essential term being explained is “sheSa”, as explained in BhP 10.3.25 (where Prabhupada’s translation and even transliteration are misleading (not asheSa, but sheSa-saMjnA), which is found in both verses 63 and 67. Liberation in #65 comes from knowing the essential oneness of creation, and in #67 from release from upAdhis.

naSTe loke dvi-parArdhAvasAne
mahA-bhUteSv Adi-bhUtaM gateSu |
vyakte’vyaktaM kAla-vegena yAte
bhavAn ekaH ziSyate zeSa-saMjJaH ||
After the lifetime of Lord Brahma, at the time of cosmic annihilation, when all the five gross elements enter into their original undifferentiated state, when the manifest enters into the unmanifest by the force of time, then You, who are known as Sesha, alone remain. (SB 10.3.25)


kAruNyaM kuru bhagavan prabho tad asyai
yeneyaM tvayi na karoti putra-bhAvam
yeneyaM tava caraNe bhavet prapannA
tenaiva prabhavati nirvritir mamApi

Advaita to Mahaprabhu during Mahaprakasha. "So be merciful to her, O Lord, O master! that she no longer thinks of You as her son, so that she surrenders to Your lotus feet. This will bring joy to not only her, but to me as well." (CCMK 5.87)