Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Radhashtami 2009

Rādhā-viraha. Nandalal Bose (1936).

I have been carrying on a multi-pronged research project in relation to the Dāna-līlā, part of which includes reading the Bengali texts that precede Mahaprabhu's incarnation.

Now one thing that is very important to understand: Nothing happens in a vacuum. There are always preconditions that make subsequent events possible. If there were no Radha-consciousness before Mahaprabhu came, it would have been impossible for anyone to believe or accept the mythology of Mahaprabhu incarnating Radha's mood.

The entire theological thrust of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, which is only moderately present in Mahaprabhu's other biographies, is that Radha is superior to Krishna, not because of some glorious divine creative, mystical or magical powers, but because of her love.

bhaktir evainaṁ nayati
bhaktir evainaṁ darśayati
bhakti-vaśaḥ pūruṣaḥ
bhaktir eve bhūyasī
Devotion leads the Supreme Lord. Devotion reveals Him. The Lord is under the thrall of bhakti. Therefore Bhakti is even greater than the Lord.
Such a statement is controversial in many ways. How can anything have dominion over the All-Powerful Supremely Independent, etc., Supreme (Masculine) Lord?

In order to understand the answer, it is necessary to know that Radha and Krishna are in fact ONE. Bhakti, symbolized as the supreme manifestation of Love in Radha, is an integral part of God's own being. In order to experience Itself (I use the neuter not to depersonalize the Supreme Truth, but the include both masculine and feminine in It) it is necessary for the Supreme Truth to become multiple. The experience of multiplicity has its highest perfection in Reunion, which is the object of Love.

The masculine part of the Lord divides, the feminine part unites.

And that is where this difficult poem of Chandi Das's resides. A few years ago I published a translation of the Haṁsadūta and Uddhava-sandeśa in which I discussed S.K. De's critique of Rupa Goswami's poetry. The basic thrust of my argument was that De was applying modern literary standards to medieval poetry, and that was a flawed approach.

When it comes to Chandidas, however, there is something "modern" about Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana. I noted on these pages that Chandidas's Krishna is pretty much despised by most Bengali critics. This shows, in effect, their bias towards a medieval or classical approach, i.e., Krishna cannot be flawed. Or if he is flawed, it must be a temporary or stylistic flaw only. How can Krishna be so cruel and unforgiving to Radha, who loves him so much? These critics, in effect, want Krishna to be the idol they have been accustomed to seeing on the altar and not anything else.

But, as I see it, Krishna is a "bad boy." To some extent, he always has been a bad boy. It becomes a bit of a joke in the later literature. But even Mahaprabhu's prayer in Radha's voice says, "Even if Krishna treats me cruelly, even if he womanizes in front of me, he is still the Lord of my life." There is something about the distilled and cleaned up version of Krishna, in the name of līlā that marginalizes his dubious behavior. We call him a dhīra-lalita and let him off the hook.

Let us give a little credit to Chandidas. He has been criticized in many ways--his poetry is not as memorable or as powerful as that of the "other" Chandidas, not as transcendent, not as magnificent in its depiction of Radha's love. Forgotten, and best left forgotten except for archaeological interest.

Well, I am slow, but I have not come to the same conclusion. Chandidas's Radha evolves, and to some extent so does Krishna. We don't know (Damn those missing pages at the beginning and end of the book!) whether Krishna comes back to Vrindavan. Chandidas does not even bother with the niceties of describing Krishna's departure as found in the Bhāgavatam with Akrura coming and the gopis trying to block the departing chariot, which is also so poignantly described in Haṁsadūta. He just goes directly from the episode of Radha stealing the flute to Krishna's absence.

Chandidas describes Radha's viraha. Krishna does not even say anything until the very last song that we have, number 418, after Barai once again plays the role of go-between (the Viraha-khaṇḍa is the second longest in SKK, from 350-418, and still incomplete):
"Don't speak to me of her, Barai. When I hear her name, I don't ever want to return. You know how much she has made me suffer, and I have decided I will never see her again. Go back, Barai, go back and don't come to talk to me of Radha again. How much lemon juice will you pour on these open wounds? I could leave the wealth and opulence that I have here, but I will never be able to bear the burning of Radha's mean words. I have left my home in Gokula because I have decided to destroy Kamsa. In separation..."
And we don't know what happens next. Does Krishna have a change of heart? It seems awful late in the game. The only thing we can point to is the folk tradition--such as Gopāla-vijaya, which combines the Bhāgavata and the folk literature and has Krishna come back. But even were Krishna to come back, his behavior seems unforgivable. Nothing--not his demon-killing heroism, not his being an incarnation of Narayan, not Radha's eternal consorthood as Lakshmi--nothing seems to justify his petulant intransigeance.

It seems that Krishna repeatedly brings up Radha's original sin, her refusing his gift of tambul. Even she seems riddled with guilt about what was, after all, a totally justifiable reaction. Even in līlā terms, we expect Radha to refuse Krishna. It is necessary as part of the parakiya nayika's role. If she were to give in easily, it would render the lila meaningless. But even after Radha has given herself to Krishna heart and soul, even after he has completely "taken her life" by shooting her with Cupid's arrow, even after his heart has been softened (see Bāna-khaṇḍa), he still cannot give up something that just seems to go completely against the principle of bhakti itself.

Now the big question with Chandidas is whether he was simply describing Krishna in purely human terms--a rather arrogant and unpleasant, though handsome and heroic, young man, whose uncontrollable lust leads him to overpower Radha and extract sexual favors from her, whose persistence and insistence eventually leads to her emotional capitulation, and then abandons her. The underscore is that of the ambivalent male, the brahmachari who cannot deal with his own sexuality (unlike the Krishna of the Gopāla-tāpanī, or the Vidagdha-mādhava, where it is just a lila joke), and so directs his self-anger outward, punishing Radha for having enchanting him. The damn poem is so psychologically astute that it tears your heart out.

See song 378:
"Day and night, I practice yoga meditation. My mind has become the wind in the sky. I have tasted the nectar in the root lotus, for I have attained knowledge of Brahman. Stay away from me, O beautiful Radha. Stop desiring me. I have united the Ila, Pingala and Sushumna, and so captured the wind-like mind. I have sealed the tenth door (the Brahma-randhra) and am fully situated on the yogic path. I have cut the arrows of Cupid with the arrow of knowledge, and your youthful beauty no longer affects me. I no longer feel any transformations in my body and I recognize the futility of life in this world." With these cruel words the Holder of the Discus, the Lord, the best of the playboys (nāgara-vara) became still, absorbed in meditation. So sings Chandidas before his goddess Basali.
The Bhāgavata theme of yoga-śikṣā or jnāna-śikṣā is here being found in a different form. Is it a teaching moment, or a moment of deliberate cruelty? Radha's reaction in both the Bhāgavata and in Chandidas is to emotionally reject this kindness.

And yet, where is Chandidas's "Supreme Personality of Godhead"? What was his point in making Krishna his leading character? He could have picked Bablu Ghosh and made the story about him and some mundane goalini... Is the divine allegory of love still operational? In that context, without Krishna' s response, without his surrendering to Radha's love, there is no meaning to any of it. It all becomes a pointless, though poignant, exercise in the meaninglessness of mundane love. But that cannot be.

In the Bhāgavata, Krishna ties the strings together. Though he tells the gopis that they must be satisfied with nothing other than their love for Him, that their love is its own reward, there is nevertheless an inevitability in the success of love where He is concerned.

mayi bhaktir hi bhūtānāṁ
amṛitatvāya kalpate
diṣṭyā yad āsīn mat-sneho
bhavatīnāṁ mad-āpanaḥ
Devotion to me leads to immortality for all beings. You have been fortunate enough to attain love for me, by which you have attained me. (10.82.44)
There are so many strands here, it is hard to break them all apart. In India, there is a belief that the woman's devotion to her husband corrects his flaws. I think this myth is perhaps further widespread than India. I have heard battered women say that they hoped that by loving and having faith in a deeply flawed, even sociopathic man (such as prisoners in jail), they could reform him. Men also says, "Your love has made me a better man." I don't think that this deep-seated idea of love's transformative aspects is without foundation, without some basis in human experience, and the exception here rather proves the rule.

In the divine metaphor, God is "Deus Absconditus", the absent God. The one who does not answer our prayers or save us or our loved ones in the time of need. He is the God who is equally indifferent to all, and seems to punish both the evil and the pious with old age, disease and death without favoritism.

That is why Radha has become the dominant figure in Chandidas, and by extension to the whole of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. The Bengali critics of Chandidas usually note that the best portions of the SKK are the later ones, Radha's songs of separation. In them, we find many of the themes that are later standard. Radha in the Gita Govinda is iconic in subjugating Krishna to her love, but the power of her love is not shown to the extent that it is in Chandidas.

In his commentary to UN 1.20, Jiva Goswami says that the power of an elephant can only be seen when it is chained and using all its strength to break free; similarly, the power of Radha's love for Krishna can only be fully seen in her separation from him. That is why "Radha-viraha" is the culmination of Chandidas. (And, as an aside, why Mahaprabhu's sannyasa is the culmination for Mahaprabhu's lila to many of his devotees.)

Here is one of Radha's songs in the many that succeed each other at the beginning of Viraha-khaṇḍa--
O Barai! My youth and wealth are all worthless. I will tear off this pearl necklace and throw it away. I will wipe off the crimson mark in my hair and grind my conch bracelets into dust. O cruel Barai, give me back my life. My own flawed destiny has taken Krishna away from me. I will shave my head and go to the ocean; I will become a yogini and wander from land to land. If I cannot have Krishna due to my past deeds, then I have no choice but to throw up my hands and swallow poison. I was unable to ever achieve the perfection of lovemaking with Krishna. The treasure I had wrapped in my cloth has been stolen by Fate. O please, Barai, just this once do something to help me. Go and find Krishna and bring him to me. Even after seeing me dressed and decorated for him, he still left me behind, like an orphan. (354)
There are many, many more. They are effective. The contrast between Radha's love and Krishna's indifference are stark. The starker they are, the more powerfully agonizing is her emotion and distress. You have to take it on faith that Krishna is worth attaining.

O devotees! If attaining God is like taking a camel through the eye of a needle, this is what you must be ready to accept. The burden -- the cross -- of separation.

One thing that needs further analysis is the separation of Radha Chandravali into two persons. This can only mean that Rupa Goswami was not happy with Radha's personality as depicted by Chandidas and divided her into two. So it would be interesting to see in which contexts Chandidas and Devakinandan Singh use the two names.


dr.jaya said...

Thanks a million, Jagat Ji,
you've delighted my heart.
You wrote well before, too:

Sur Das nicely states:

ऊधो विरहौ प्रेमु करै
ज्यौ बिनु पुट पठ गहे न रंगहि, पुट गहे रसहि परै
जौ आवै घट दहन अनल तौ पुनि अमिय भरै
जौ धरि बीज देह अङ्कुर चिरि तौ सत फरनि फरै
जौ सर सहत सुभट संमुख रन तों रवि रथहि सरै

Those following the path of prema should not fear the pain of separation.

They believe that the cloth of love, if it falls into the bowl of separation, becomes brighter in color.

If the clay pot had not been baked in the heat of the fire, how would it be able to hold its fill of nectar? If the seed did not break through its casing, how would it flourish and give so many fruits and flowers?

If the hero could not tolerate the arrows that pierce his body on the battlefield, how would he ever enter Suryaloka?

In this way, the follower of the path of love should never fear (separation?) pain.

Jaya Sri Radhe!

dr.jaya said...

Namaste. My favorite sweet verse of 'Radha Viraha' by Sri Prabodhananda echoes in my heart:

zyAmeti sundara-vareti manohareti
kandarpa-koTi-laliteti sunAgareti|

sotkaNTham ahni gRNatI muhur AkulAkSI
sA rAdhikA mayi kadA nu bhavet prasannA ||

When will Sri Radhika who
with tearful, anxious eyes,
voice full of passionate longing,
constantly recounts
again and again
Her Bloved's Names as:
“O My Dark Beloved!
O perfectly Handsome!
O Stealer of My heart!
O passionate Lover
as charming as
a million Cupids!”

ever be pleased enough to grace me ?


caitanyeti kRpAmayeti paramodAreti nAnAvidhi-
gaurAngeti guNArNaveti rasarUpeti svanAmapriyety-
azrAntaM mama jalpato janiriyaM yAyAd iti prArthaye//

Caitanya Candramritam
Sri Prabodhananda Saraswati

Jaya Sri Radhe!