This post was cut out of the previous Gopāla-vijaya: Dāna-līlā Part III, since there is mention there of Krishna being hit by the arrows of Cupid. This is a big theme throughout the Gita Govinda and in all Indian love poetry. As much as it is in the West: "being pierced by the arrows of Cupid" is a trope that is easily understood both in East and West.
However, there is an entire chapter in SKK called Bāna-khaṇḍa , covering 26 songs, from 282 to 308. Since there are several immediate questions in my mind related to this chapter, I am going to give a summary of it here.
It is interesting for this reason that here Krishna shoots Radha with Cupid's arrow. But this is idiosyncratic for several reasons. After all, one ordinarily does not have the power to make someone fall in love with you, that is why the third party or external force named "Cupid" has been devised in the first place. At the same time, since Krishna in the Gaudiya tradition at lease is the navīna-madana who is worshiped with the Kāma-bīja and Kāma-gāyatrī, it would seem that there is a connection. Krishna fires the arrows of attraction and one falls transcendentally in love with him.
Even so, in ṣrī Kṛṣṇa-kīrtana, is Radha not already in love with Krishna? This is the eleventh of thirteen chapters in SKK and we are almost near the end. There has been an evolution in Radha's relationship with Krishna throughout the book, from her preliminary indifference to Krishna's passion to reluctant acquiescence and then to slow but ever increasing attachment. At the end, when Krishna finally leaves for Mathura, Radha will be totally desolate in separation.
Nevertheless, as is made clear in this chapter, Krishna is not satisfied with her level of commitment and when she went and spoke ill of him to Mother Yashoda (at the end of the previous chapter), he loses all patience and decides he must shoot Cupid's arrows and "take her life."
Through all this, Krishna himself seems strangely unchanged and heartless, or at the very least, childish and immature. And even here, the shooting of Cupid's arrows does not seem like an act of love, but of enmity and vengefulness. This is why, as Amitrasudana Bhattacharya quotes Shankariprasad Bosu from Madhya-yuger kavi o kāvya, "Whatever is good in the SKK is dominated by Radha. But he in whose name the song is sung, Krishna, is the reservoir of all faults. Whatever bad has been said about SKK is a result of the depiction of Krishna's personality." (Bhattacharya's edition of SKK, 9th edition, Kolkata: Dey's Publishing, 2002; p.95).
The Bana-khanda takes up from the previous chapter where Radha went and told Yashoda everything about Krishna's behavior with her. This makes Krishna very angry. Insulted and in a rage, he tells Barai that he has given up all hope for a relation with Radha.
"She has made a laughing stock of me throughout Gokula. I will pierce her essence with the arrows of Cupid... I even thought that I would take her life, but only hold back on your account."Barai then tells him that he should not show Radha any kindness (nā koriho dayā) but go ahead and shoot her with these five fabulous flower arrows: stambhana, mohana, dahana, śoṣana, uccāṭana, which do indeed sound rather dangerous.
These flower arrows are always a mystery to me. Are they meant figuratively or literally? In this case, it is evident that something literal is meant. Krishna is an extraordinary divine child who possesses great powers.
Traditionally, the shooting of Cupid's arrows come at the beginning of a relationship. Here in this chapter, however, there are many allusions to the first chapters of SKK, where Radha refused Krishna's offering of tambul and incurred Barai's wrath. Krishna also mentions the dāna-līlā several times, thus hearkening back to the early part of the romance, and indicating that little progress has been made.
In this conversation with Krishna, Barai herself recalls the tambul that she had brought to Radha and which she had thrown away. Barai says, "Go ahead. Take her life. She is not afraid of you. Let her beg for mercy." This equation of shooting with Cupid's arrows and taking her life comes up again and again in this chapter.
The puzzling question here is why should Radha be afraid? What is the relationship of this to love? What does it say about Chandidas's understanding of love in general? Perhaps it is to foreshadow the separation that will follow soon afterwards when Krishna leaves for Mathura. Perhaps the idea is that love, like bhakti, is related to a feeling of powerlessness or helplessness. Metaphorically, Radha's resistance could perhaps be seen as a sign of material ego.
Krishna really gets dressed up in Song 284, the naṭa-vara, showing all the beauty of Cupid himself. Chandidas also describes the beautiful uddīpanas of spring in the Vrindavan forest. In view of the feelings of anger, etc., that have been expressed by both Krishna and Barai, it seems somewhat inconsistent to have a classical description of Krishna's beauty, but it certainly gives pause to consider the author's intention. After all, even in Gopāla-vijaya, we hear a lot about people getting angry -- Radha, Krishna, as well as Barai -- but the underlying sentiment is one of laughter. Somehow, though, SKK does not come across as so humorous. The recurring "taking of life" theme in this section seems to bely any such interpretation. And yet, the connection of Krishna's extreme beauty and the shooting of arrows is being made. I don't think there is another description of Krishna quite like this one anywhere in the book. [This will need to be confirmed.]
And then he stands in wait.
Meanwhile Barai once again brings Radha into the forest on the pretext of going to Mathura to sell milk products, setting up the same circumstance as several of the earlier līlās (285-286). She then tells Krishna, "I have brought Radha here with great effort. Don't delay but shoot her with Cupid's arrows. Take Radha's life today. (āji laha rādhāra parāṇa.) . When she is completely overcome with separation then she will beg for you, Vanamali. Only then will I be happy." (287)
But Krishna does not react immediately. Rather he sends Barai to exact an apology from Radha first (288-289). "What has Krishna not done for you? And still you remain indifferent... Go and hold Krishna's feet."
Though Radha hears the threats of being shot with Cupid's arrow, she is unafraid. She recounts that all the Puranic heroes are present in her body -- Lord Shiva, Nila, Madana, Garuda, Prithu, Yudhisthira, Sugriva, Bali, Simha, (e.g. "Shiva Mahadeva, Lord of the Gods, is directly present in my braids"), so bring it on. (Song 290)
Metaphorically, here, the moral could be that material heroics are no competition for Krishna. Or, "Comes love, nothing can be done."
Radha thus bravely challenges Krishna to come and refuses to apologize. She and Krishna have a little back and forth argument (291), however, when Krishna does show his flower bow and draws it before her ("I will take your life, don't let me down." 291.15-16), she starts to tremble and says, "I am only 14 years old. Out of ignorance I said some nasty things about you. I will do whatever you ask of me, but please don't shoot the arrow and take my life. This will be a great sin, etc." (292)
Krishna replies with the same old grudges, recalling the early chapters of the SKK. "I sent you tambul but you threw it away. Now you have been speaking ill of me, spreading lies to the whole community. You threaten to tell Kamsa, well let him save you. Neither the gods nor the demons can resist the power of Cupid's arrows, with which I will now take your life. You have shown such disrespect." And:
āra ka ṁsa mārite ṁ mana koilo ṁ thīra //
I will kill you and the heroic Aihan. And I have decided to kill Kamsa also. (293.4)
Seeing Krishna's intransigeance, Radha turns to Barai and asks her to intercede (294), but here the old woman (viparīta-matira vṛddhā) again takes Krishna's side and repeatedly pressures him to shoot. (295) Finally, Krishna does so, after again saying, "Radha, you don't know who I am." (āhmā nā cihnasi). [This phrase, it should be remarked, also appears in GoVi (ref.)]
Song 295 ends with Krishna piercing Radha's heart with the flower arrow and her falling to the ground.
As an aside, it might be wondered the extent to which this "recognition" Krishna demands is literal. In the Goswamis, the gopis know well enough who Krishna is, but they don't take him seriously for all that. So any banter between them (or the sakhas) and Krishna with regards to his identity are purely on the level of tongue in cheek. Whereas here it seems as though Krishna is genuinely disappointed that Radha does not recognize him for who he is and give him his due -- unconditional love and obedience.
Song 296 is Radha's reaction in which she is completely transformed. "O Barai, I will stay here and set up house for Krishna. I will make love to him and fulfill my youth. (Chorus) O Barai ! How long can I bear this flower arrow wound? Here is the Yamuna, here Vrindavan. Please bring the son of Nanda to me here. In this very place, I will draw Kahnai to my bosom, holding his shawl. My youth has become an intoxicated elephant. I can no longer hold it back with the whip of modesty and shame. I cannot tolerate the arrows of Cupid, which do not kill me physically, but only burn me to a crisp within. I cannot bear the wound made by this invisible arrow, which Krishna uses to kill other's wives (para-tirI)." And with that, Radha falls to the ground unconscious.
Krishna and Barai are now afraid that Radha really is dead. Barai suddenly changes her tune and shows displeasure at Krishna's action. She says, "I told you to kill her, but that was a joke. Why didn't you oppose me? You could kill a hundred brahmins here in Gokula, but that is not as sinful as killing a single woman. There is no more pious woman in the universe than Radha and you have gone and shot her, like a low class chandal. Do everything you can to save her, Kanai, or there will be no escaping condemnation." Radha's sakhis also cry and rebuke Krishna for what he has done. (297-298)
Krishna becomes afraid. "I don't know how to save her." He also promises to reform himself: “I will stop doing things like asking for tolls or flirting with women. Help me, Barai!”
She continues to chastize him and he, childishly, answers that it is not his fault. "What accidental impiety did I do so that I am falsely accused? I got nothing out of this relationship, no kisses, no lovemaking. All I got was criticism and backbiting." Then he blames Barai for getting him into the mess by telling him to shoot the arrows. (299-301)
Finally, after Barai (302) continually tells him the only way to solve the situation is to go to Radha and save her life, Krishna goes to her. He blames Barai. He touches her even while blaming her for going and talking to his mother, "Why did you go and do that?" [sounding ever like the battering husband]. Interestingly, Krishna here again promises that he will give up playing the toll duty collector. [This sure makes it sound like the WHOLE of SKK is focused around the dāna-līlā, or grew out of it. So, it may well be called the "defining" līlā of SKK?]
As this sequence of four songs (303-306) by Krishna to the fallen Radha, which Chandidas calls a vilāpa, or lament, develop, Krishna becomes more and more anxiety ridden. "Look at me, may my sin go away. May the pain of being separated from you go away. My life is intertwined with yours (āhmāra jīvana rohe tohmāra jīvane)."
Krishna does seem remorseful. "Just come back to life. I will not behave in this way any more," he promises repeatedly. Four songs in a row by Krishna is pretty unusual in SKK. He begs her to come back to life, saying he will go to Benares and become a sannyasi, or jump in a river or the ocean to commit suicide. One line here makes me think that Chandidas is setting up this as a reason for Krishna's going to Mathura--to flee a difficult situation of his own making. (kon puri jaibe ṁ pālāiyā ṁ?). "I will burn my flower arrows and bow, for they have caused you to lose your life."
Radha slowly gets back up. Krishna fans her and brings her Yamuna water to drink. The sakhis cheer (hulāhuli). Radha is still giddy with love. (307) The chapter concludes with a long milan in beautiful Vrindavan. (308)
Amitrasudan Bhattacharya observes when discussing Krishna's personality in SKK that in general, though Radha seems to develop progressively in the SKK, Krishna is strangely unemotional and unaffected. Certainly where love is concerned, he does not act in ways that we would expect. Bhattacharya uses this chapter as an example, pointing to the fact that Krishna only saves Radha from the damage he has caused when he is being chastised by Barai and the sakhis. Throughout the poem, Krishna never seems to rise above base sexual desire and there is little or no manifestation of the nobler aspects of love. Whether justified or not, seen in this way, it is no wonder SKK is problematic for Vaishnavas! It may be a little strong, and certainly when we compare this to Gopāla-vijaya or the works of the Goswamis, for example, Krishna does not come out looking all that good. It is certainly food for thought.
A couple of thoughts: One is the theme of "woman killing" which of course is famously found in the second verse of the Gopī-gīta. The other is Jiva Goswami's description of Radha's first encounter with Krishna, where she falls into a faint on hearing Krishna's flute and Paurnamasi sends Vrinda Devi to have him touch Radha with his feet to ressuscitate her. There is certainly an equation between Krishna's flute and the shooting of Cupid's arrows. In the Bhāgavatam (and GC) Krishna is in control of it. So the idea of Navīna-madana is being developed here.
I was thinking that there is a change of focus from Krishna's power to Radha's in the GoVi because there he is the one being hit by arrows of Cupid, but Radha is not consciously shooting them there. At any rate, the SKK is interesting because it appears that there is some kind of boomerang effect. The two Bengali commentators named above don't seem to recognize that whatever the reason, Krishna has been thrown into confusion by the effects of the arrow on Radha and this has affected him deeply. So there is some transformation.
Whether it is heartlessness or just immaturity -- Krishna comes across as a petulant and narcissistic child -- the depiction of Krishna is certainly a problem for anyone who calls him "the Supreme Personality of Godhead." What was Chandidas thinking?
At any rate, we expect SKK to be an exception to the vision of the Goswamis and the other authors. In a sense, I am looking at it as the purva-paksha against whom their own versions are being created. Though there is mention, even in this chapter, of Krishna being "Lord of the Three Worlds," and he certainly possesses some great mystic power in these arrows of Cupid, but a certain flawed humanity predominates. It makes it a bit difficult to interpret, since we expect there to be at least some metaphorical subtext, and that is a bit hard to read when these flawed human elements are so strong.