Monday, July 13, 2009

The dāna-līlā play in Chandrasekhara's house

In proceeding through the materials that shed light on the dāna-līlā, it is necessary to look at a theme described in nearly all the biographies of Chaitanya to a greater or lesser degree, namely that of the play that takes place in Chandrasekhara's house. It is always interesting to trace the different treatment of Mahaprabhu's līlās through the different accounts of his life, and this one, the biographers agree, seems to have been one of the more important events during the 13-month period between Chaitanya’s trip to Gaya and his taking sannyasa.

In the optic of the dāna-līlā, we will see that though the information is sparse, certain details are found that at least give us a sense that the themes of Chandi Das’s SKK – even if not directly attributable to him – had become an integral part of any Bengali’s vision of the Krishna story, whether they were committed Vaishnavas or not.

The dāna-līlā only becomes of real significance in Kavi Karnapur's relatively late Candrodaya-nāṭaka, and even there, it is really peripheral to other purposes that will be mentioned further in this article. Moreover, Karnapur's descriptions show a developed exposition of the dāna-līlā that is fully integrated with the Vaishnava theology of the Chaitanya school as it stood at the time.

The timeline of influence in the biographies is as follows:
  • Murari Gupta Caitanya-caritāmṛta-mahā-kāvya (CCMG), ca. 1535
  • Karnapur's Caitanya-caritāmṛta-mahā-kāvya (CCMK) ca. 1542
  • Vrindavan Das's Caitanya-bhāgavata (CBh) 1553
  • Lochandas Caitanya-maṅgala (CM) ca. 1570
  • Karnapur's Caitanya-candrodaya 1576 (CCN).
With the exception of CCN, the above biographies may be called “synoptic” in the sense that they are all based broadly on Murari Gupta’s account, adding elements from their own traditions, e.g., Shivananda Sen, Nityananda Prabhu, and Narahari, respectively. CCN is partly based on Shivananda Sen’s accounts, partly on those of Chaitanya’s followers in Jagannath Puri.

The timeline of the dāna-līlās is as follows:

1. before Bhāgavatam and Chaitanya):
  • Chandidas's Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana (SKK), pre 1500
  • Rādhā-premāmṛta, pre 1500
2. After the Bhāgavatam and before the developed Chaitanya sampradaya influence:
  • Daivakinandan Kavishekhar's Gopāla-vijaya, ca. 1530
3. After Chaitanya:
  • Rupa Goswami's Dāna-keli-kaumudī (DKK), 1549
  • Raghunathdas Goswami's Dāna-keli-cintāmaṇi (DKC), n.d., ca. 1570?
  • Karnapur's Caitanya-candrodaya (CCN), 1576

Murari Gupta


Murari Gupta devotes two short chapters (2.15-16) to the play in Chandrashekhar's house, but is nevertheless spare on details. He does not mention anything remotely related to the dāna-līlā. The premise is that Mahaprabhu desired to dress like a woman (2.15.8). Murari says that Shrivas Pandit dressed like Narada and Gadadhar Pandit like a gopi. In his role as Narada, Shrivas glorifies the gopis' piety in previous lives and quotes 10.47.63 (vande nanda-vraja-strīṇām, etc.).

After this introduction, the second chapter (2.16) commences with Haridas Thakur glorifying the Holy Name. Advaita Prabhu (īśvarasya kalayā) and his companions come on stage and dance. It would seem this means that he plays the role of Krishna (as later versions have it). Then "Baladeva" (Nityananda Prabhu) enters on stage, dressed as a gopi (rasa-viśeṣa-vinodī), holding the hand of his prāṇa-nātha (2.16.6). I assume this means holding Advaita's hand.

Then in 2.16.7, Chaitanya (Vāsudeva) enters the scene and Murari goes into a description of his appearance. This quickly turns to another subject, however. First Chaitanya transforms into Lakshmi (2.16.11) and then goes into the temple, takes the deity’s flowers and reoffers them to him. This fills him with maternal affection (prema-bhakti-rasa-pūrita-koṭi-mātṛ-sneha-paripūrito’bhavat). This is then followed by his taking on the mood of the great Mother Goddess (2.16.15ff). This fits into a general theme most of the subsequent biographers delighted in: seeing Chaitanya as taking on the moods of various gods and avatars in a display of his own divinity.

Kavi Karnapur I (CCMK)


Kavi Karnapur’s first attempt at writing Mahaprabhu’s life is of only passing interest. He shows some originality by inserting two chapters (8-9) in which Shrivas describes Mahaprabhu’s previous pastimes in Vrindavan. This is followed by Mahaprabhu’s Balaram āveśa, which leads to Chaitanya’s decision to “dance” in woman’s dress in Chandrasekhara’s house. This is then described in chapter 10. Karnapur follows Murari quite closely without much expansion or added explanation. He does add, however, that Nityananda is dressed as the old woman.

Vrindavan Das (CBh)


In chapter 18 of the Madhya-khaṇḍa of Caitanya-bhāgavata, it is said that Chaitanya desired to dance as Lakshmi. The dāna-līlā is not specifically mentioned, though Nityananda and Brahmananda are described as taking the role of an old woman. This is a character role we have seen as being specific to the Bengali folk tradition, who appears in Chandi Das’s Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana as Radharani’s maternal grandmother. Later, she will be known as jaratī, “the old lady”, and given the name Mukharā in Rupa Goswami’s works. Nevertheless, it is hard to see exactly what the Buri is doing in Vrindavan Das’s (or CCMK) as her usual role as a go-between in dāna-līlā type situations is not specified. Nevertheless, it is hard not to assume such a role, as such functions are indeed fairly specific to it.

Vrindavan Das describes the performance put on by Chaitanya and his associates into three different, rather disconnected, plays. One is Rukmiṇī-haraṇa where Mahaprabhu plays Rukmini, the second one being Vrindavan līlā, in which Gadadhar plays a gopi, Brahmananda is Barai. Srivas is Narada who interrogates the two who are on their way to Mathura with various questions. But no real story line can be detected.

Advaita tells Gadadhar to dance to please the Lord, which he does. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati say in his commentary that Gadadhar is playing Radha, but Vrindavan Das doesn't actually say it directly, only that he is "in the dress of a gopi"). Then Mahaprabhu enters the stage dresses as Lakshmi and accompanied by Nityananda in the costume of an old woman. Indeed, Vrindavan Das describes him as fluctuating from one female deity identity to another. "One by one the Lord took the roles of his different eternal potencies."

This led to a great ecstatic mood in the audience, after which the third part begins. Mahaprabhu sits on the throne as the mūla-śakti or Mother Goddess and does things like breastfeed the devotees. Prayers to the Mother Goddess and benedictions are prominently displayed here.

On the whole, despite the presence of the old woman played by two separate persons, and despite the interrogation of the gopis on their way to the market, little directly ties this performance to the dāna-līlā itself.

It should be noted, however, that in Chapter 5 of the Antya-khaṇḍa, the dāna-līlā is specifically mentioned.

Sri Madhava Ghosa started singing. He was specially gifted with a very sweet voice, and so when his song described Krishna's pastimes of levying taxes on the gopis, Lord Nityananda was overwhelmed with a surge of divine emotions. Thus the Lord was engaged in ecstatic pastimes with the most fortunate Gadadhara Das [not the same person as Gadadhar Pandit] who never forgot for a moment that he was a gopi.

Lochan Das (CM)


Lochan Das’s description of this event is given in Caitanya-maṅgala, Madhya-khaṇḍa, 9. In this version, the Gauranga Nagara ideas of the Shrikhanda school and its privileging of Gadadhar Pandit as the incarnation of Radha is showcased. It is thus to Gadadhar [and not Buddhimanta Khan] that Chaitanya reveals his desire to have a play and asks him to bring everyone to Chandrasekhara’s house. (verses 23-29).

tora nātha mui han tumi mora prāṇa
gadāira gaurāṅga bole koro avadhāna

I am your lord [and husband], and you are [my beloved], my life. Pay attention, for people say that Gauranga is Gadai’s.

Lochan also makes it clear that Chaitanya's Baladeva āveśa took place in Chandrasekhara’s house. In some respects it appears he was following Karnapur, which is not altogether a surprise, as Karnapur's father, Shivananda Sen, is usually considered a Gauranga Nagara sympathizer.

The glorification of Gadadhar continues:

pradhāna prakṛti tumi kṛṣṇa śakti rādhā tumi
ki jāni tā kahibāre āmi
ramaṇīra śiromaṇi kṛṣṇa-prema sohāginī
tora tattva ki bolite jāni

You are the main form of Prakriti. You are Krishna’s potency Radha. I don’t know what else to say. You are the best of women, the beloved wife of Krishna. How can I explain what you are in truth? (CM 2.9.101-102)

Lochan Das leaves aside Murari's account of previous lives of puṇya. But with these and some other minor exceptions, events unfurl in the same order: Srivas speaking to Gadadhar, Haridas speaks on the glories of Harinam; Advaita comes in dressed as Krishna and Mahaprabhu in gopi dress. He does not, however, mention Nityananda in the buri dress. And, as with the other versions, Mahaprabhu finally becomes the Mother Goddess. In conclusion, this account has even less to do with the dāna-līlā than the other versions.

Karnapur (2): CCN


As it stands, the Caitanya-candrodaya Nāṭaka (CCN) is the only one of the biographies that unequivocally presents the play in Chandrasekhara's house as an enactment of a version of the dāna-līlā. In going through the different biographies, we may sometimes detect a certain discomfort with aspects of the līlās. In the case of CCN, it might well be said that the "Goswamization", sanitization or sanskritization of the līlās or at least this particular līlā has been completed.

Nevertheless, Kavi Karnapur's description of the play in Chandrasekhara’s house follows his own proclivities and does not follow exactly Rupa Goswami's conventions: e.g., the vidūṣaka is called Kusumasava (as Ramananda Raya does in Jagannātha-vallabha). The old woman is called Jarati and not Mukhara.

But otherwise, there seems to be a palpable influence of Rupa Goswami on this description, one of those influences possibly being the theme of the narma-vivāda-goṣṭhī itself. See, for instance, the use of the expression keli-kaumudī in the Sutradhara’s comment (19), or the quarrel over who is the true proprietor of Vrindavan, Radha or Krishna.

However, it is to be noted that Karnapur's interest is only peripherally the specifics of the līlā. His real purpose is to establish identities between the persons in Chaitanya's līlā, his associates, with those in the original Radha-Krishna līlā in Vrindavan. This theme was present in the previous accounts, but reaches its apogee here, after the concept of identification had been fully established and developed, in no small part by Karnapur himself in the Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā.

Altogether, there are a total of 60 verses in the Third Act of CCN, the first 23 of which set the stage—both in terms of Mahaprabhu’s līlā as of the transcendental nature of Radha and Krishna’s līlā. There are actually three outer layers surrounding the the Radha-Krishna līlā play itself:

  1. Premabhakti and Maitri
  2. Sūtradhāra and Paripārśvika
  3. Narada and disciple

Each of the external layers is a commentary on various aspects of what is going on. Prema Bhakti and Maitri first of all introduce themselves in a kind of meta-circumstance, lamenting the condition of the world itself in the Kali-yuga, and Prema-bhakti is to give hope to Maitri that the world is about to become a better place due to the arrival of Mahaprabhu. She takes her to Chandrasekhar’s house to see the play.

As an aside here, I was struck by Karnapur's symbolic depiction of Maitri ("friendliness, camaraderie, brotherly feeling") and her maternal grandmother, Prema Bhakti. We are familiar with this kind of thing in the Bhāgavatam, where the interrelation of various virtues are expressed in terms of a family tree. The family tree given here is as follows:

  1. Anugraha ("Krishna's grace") and Bhagavaj-janāsakti ("Attachment to the Vaishnavas") are the parents of one son, Viveka ("Discrimination") and many daughters who are the various categories of bhakti, including Prema Bhakti.
  2. Viveka marries Mati ("Good sense") and they have a daughter Anasūyā ("Non-enviousness")
  3. Anasūyā marries Samabhāva ("Equality to All"), and their daughter is Maitrī ("Friendliness").
[end of aside]

The following table shows the breakdown of the kinds of verses that are spoken in this act of CCN:

  • Prema-bhakti : 28 verses; Primarily theological commentary : prema, bhakti, rasa, līlā, bhagavat-svarūpa, the roles played by the various parshads and glorification of same. Several verses from Bhāgavatam (e.g., the ātmārāma verse (BhP 1.7.10).
  • Maitrī : 1 verse. Description of Prema-bhakti.
  • Paripārśvika: 4; setting scene for play.
  • Sūtradhāra : 9 – maṅgalācaraṇa, transcendental nature of līlā (quotes ātmārāma verse), nature of the play. Some similarities to Prema Bhakti.
  • Nārada : 5 verses: descriptions of Vrindavan and Krishna’s flute
  • Snātaka : 2 description of Krishna’s flute and a nice verse describing imminent vision of Krishna
  • Radha : 1; description of Krishna’s beauty
  • Krishna : 4 verses; description of spring. Others descriptions of Radha’s beauty
  • Jaratī : 0
  • Sakhis : 3; warnings that Krishna will be setting up a
  • Kusumāsava : 0
  • Subala : 2
What this shows is that Karnapur’s primary concerns are being expressed through Prema-bhakti, who speaks nearly half of the verses in the act. She is principally observing the players, i.e., the actors, Advaita, Nityananda, Shrivasa, etc., and commenting on them and the mechanics of prema, bhakti, rasa and līlā.

The Sūtradhāra and Paripārśvika also provide the maṅgalācaraṇa and setting for the dāna-līlā play.

Narada and disciple observe the theological aspects of Vrindavan and the Vrindavan līlā.

In CCN, the play within the play is nominally about a dāna-līlā, but is an abbreviated and somewhat different version of it. Nevertheless, it still shows many of its key elements.

On the whole, as we have been stressing, the dāna-līlā belongs to the general theme of the pūrva-rāga—the flirtations (dhāmāli) that precede the lovers’ first meeting. Even though there are references in some of the plays to Krishna and Radha having had previous encounters, the proper context for it is really shown in SKK, where it comes at the very beginning of the entire book. Such characteristics are definitely present in CCN.

The most prominent of these elements are found in the uddīpanas of Radha and Krishna’s meditations on each other’s beauty, which are very much a part of DKK also.

What makes the CCN version so clearly late in its presentation is the Gaura-candrikā, which is in itself a theological statement. But there are also other overt theological statements that contextualize the way the audience is supposed to interpret the material. Here again, it reminds one of DKK, where the prastāvanā clearly establishes the audience's appropriate frame of mind.

There is a famous saying in the art of writing that one should "show not tell." Nevertheless, I think it is forgivable that these essential elements are being brought out, because in a sense, the audience must be told how to contextualize the material being presented. Thus, for example, there are several quotes from Bhāgavatam as well as other texts. Primarily, though, Karnapur's purpose is to set up an identity of the worlds of Gaura and of Krishna.

Some of these identities are familiar, others not so much:

śrī-rādhā-kṛṣṇa-saṁyoga-kāriṇī jaratīva sā |
yogamāyā bhagavatī nityānanda-tanūṁ śritā ||

This old woman is the one who brings Radha and Krishna together. She is the divine Yogamaya who has taken shelter of Nityananda’s body. (13)

gṛhītvā jaratī-bhāvaṁ yā devyā yogamāyayā |
sampādyate dāna-līlā saiva rādhā-mukundayoḥ ||

Devi Yogamaya has taken the nature of the old woman (Jarati) and is bringing about this dāna-līlā pastime of Radha and Mukunda. (23)

In Karnapur's account of the play, the roles are distributed as follows:

  • Krishna – Advaita Acharya
  • Radha – Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
  • Lalita – Gadadhar Pandit
  • Jarati (Barai) – Nityananda Prabhu
  • Vidushaka – Shrivas Pandit
Jarati is, as shown above, Yogamaya, but is still being identified as Radha’s maternal grandmother, who is Mukhara in Rupa Goswami’s version, or as Paurnamasi, the yogini (ekā yoginī jaratīva dṛśyamānā, para. 42).

Narada and his disciple describe their excitement at entering Vrindavan to behold the līlā.

śrutibhir api vimṛgyaṁ brahma-sampatti-bhājām
api puru-rasanīyaṁ mūrta ānanda-sāraḥ |
yad ahaha bhavitādya śrīla-śambhu-svayambhū-
prabhṛtibhir abhivandyaṁ pāda-padmaṁ dṛśor naḥ ||

The lotus feet that are worshipable to Shambhu, Svayambhu and other gods, which are the object searched for by the Upanishads, the essence of joy that is fully relished by those who have already attained the wealth of Brahman realization, will today become visible to us. (CCN 3.34)

On the whole, however, there are only four or five verses that can be said to deal directly with the dāna-līlā proper. Two of them (verses 40 and 41), spoken in Prakrit by the gopis come at the beginning and are warnings that Krishna is lying in wait for them.

bira{i}a ṭhāṇe ṭhāṇe dāṇaṁ so baṇagao dhutto |
kaḍḍha{i} sadāli-baggaṁ helā-kaṇḍula-kara-daṇḍo ||40||

[viracayya sthāne sthāne dānaṁ sa vana-gajo dhūrtaḥ |
karṣati sadāli-vargaṁ helā-kaṇḍūla-kara-daṇḍaḥ
||]

That rascal wild elephant [Krishna] has put up toll stations here and there in the forest. He always blocks the passage of the sakhis and tries to punish them by taxing them in order to scratch his itch for amorous dalliances, like an elephant playfully swats bees with his trunk.

avagāhia uṇa maggaṁ so bibiṇe saha-arehiṁ kalahehiṁ |
bihara{i} dāṇa-biṇoī hanta kadhaṁ tattha gantabbaṁ ||41||

[avagāhya punar mārgaṁ sa vipine sahacaraiḥ kalabhaiḥ |
viharati dāna-vinodī hanta kathaṁ tatra gantavyam
||]

How can we go into the forest when this tax collector has descended on the path with his elephant friends?

An indication of Rupa Goswami's influence can be seen in Krishna claiming to be a deputy of "Smara Narapati" (King Cupid):

yogyaṁ matvā smara-narapatiḥ paśya dattvā prasūnaṁ
vṛndāraṇye nava-kula-vadhū-vṛnda-ghaṭṭādhipatye |
yatnād asthāpayad ayam imaṁ mad-vayasyaṁ yaśasaṁ
dattvā śulkaṁ vrajata sudṛśo māstu śulko vivādam ||

King Cupid considered my friend Krishna to be worthy and so gave him a flower [as a token of his position] as the taxing authority over the new brides of Vrindavan. So pay your taxes, beautiful-eyed ones, and then go. Don't get into any arguments over it. (CCN 3.52)

There is some bantering in prose, but the closest Krishna comes to actually stating what he really wants as tax is in the following verse:

ratnādyaṁ vaḥ kuvalaya-dṛśām astu vā nāstu vastu
preṅkhole'smin bhuja-latikayor bhāga-dheyo vidheyaḥ |
maryādeyaṁ mama nigaditā kintu ratnāny apīmāny
ānīyante puraṭa-puṭikām antarā darśayadhvam ||

Maybe you lotus-eyed girls have some jewels or other valuables and maybe you don't. But some taxes must be paid for the swinging of your arms like this. I have explained to you the rules and you are carrying valuables in these containers you are carrying. So show us what you have.
These are the boxes of paraphernalia intended for Gopishwar's puja. The gopis' protests are halfhearted, but basically they say that they have nothing.

Since, as with all the accounts of the "play within the play" in Chaitanya līlā, the description of the actual play itself is sketchy as it is serving a purpose within the whole of the hagiography of Chaitanya himself. Thus many of the essential features that we have come to expect from the dāna-līlā are missing in this abbreviated version of this motif: The immediacy, the urgency, the danger from husbands and other seniors, there is also the exchanges based on bodily parts (so much for Radha’s breasts, lips, etc.) and desiring kisses or embraces as payment. Nor are there are no threats to take Krishna to Kamsa or to tell Nanda Maharaj.

The CCN version of the play in Chandrasekhar's house is not primarily about the dāna-līlā, but rather about the fact that Mahaprabhu and his associates are getting absorbed in this pastime, and that there is significance to the individual roles being played by them. It also offers a fuller theological development of Radha's identity than found in most of the other biographies.

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