Tuesday, September 22, 2009

DKK: Classical forms and the folk tradition


In keeping with classical Sanskrit dramatic forms, Dāna-keli-kaumudī (DKK) begins with a nāndī of two verses, the equivalent of a maṅgalācaraṇa in other Sanskrit texts. Both of these verses are quoted in Caitanya-caritāmṛta, which will give us some clues as to their significance and in turn help us to determine which elements make Rupa Goswami's vision of the dāna-līlā differ from that of Chandidas (SKK) and Devakinandan Singh in Gopala-vijaya (GoVi). Some of these differences will appear completely predictable to many readers, others not. At any rate, let us carry on with this exercise with the goal of enriching our reading of DKK and increasing our devotion to our Prema Thakurani, Srimati Radharani.

What is immediately noticeable in the first verse is how Rupa Goswami unabashedly indicates his has adapted a longstanding description of the dramaticians. In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, when Mahaprabhu and his associates are appreciating Rupa's plays, Ramananda Raya (who had also written Jagannātha-vallabha in Sanskrit) complimented Rupa for his adherence to the norms established in this long tradition:

I wish I had a thousand tongues to glorify Rupa's poetic ability. This is not poetry, but a fountain of ambrosia. It has both adopted all the characteristics of the classical dramatic tradition and at the same time contains the essence of all theological conclusions. The description of the principal elements of Radha and Krishna's love affairs is truly wonderful. My ears and mind are spinning with delight upon hearing them. (CC 3.1.192-194)
I will have occasion later to discuss more about these classical forms and their relationship to the folk traditions. Rupa Goswami in the DKK is adapting a folk theme and giving it classical form, much in the way that the great classical romantic composers adapted folk melodies to create symphonies, or took folk tales and turned them into operas.

It is always disconcerting to read attempts to compare works such as DKK and SKK, which I think is a question of apples and oranges. Klaiman, for instance, prefaces her translation of Chandidas by saying, rebutting the argument that SKK’s excessive eroticism was the reason for its fall into disfavor:

...raciness and eroticism in themselves constitute no reason for excluding a writing from the Bengal Vaishnava tradition. Nor does the subjective factor of taste, for DKK suffers from a shortness of this quality. SKK is composed in the vernacular, an idiom that, if not always elegant, carries with it a quality of vivacious honesty. DKK, on the other hand, is composed in the sacred language, Sanskrit, an idiom ill-suited to the content of the work, which reads pedantically in consequence. If the two pieces are objectively judged and compared for tastefulness of composition and literary excellence, SKK should emerge as the clear superior. (Singing the Glory of Lord Krishna, 14)
I have discussed these things to some extent in my introduction to Haṁsadūta and Uddhava-sandeśa, so I won't belabor the point here. We should not confuse genres, even when they have many points of similarity. It is something like comparing the book to the movie.

Clearly, this was a self-conscious attempt to classicize a folk tradition, and that is part of what we are trying to understand here. It is generally said that the bhakti movement stood in contrast to the classical tradition and revitalized the Hindu tradition by invigorating classical themes with earthy ones that captured the popular imagination. In fact, as already hinted above, there is a mutual process of invigoration that has been going on since time immemorial, and especially in the Vaishnava tradition itself.

It seems almost certain that the personality of Gopala Krishna, as opposed to Vasudeva Krishna, is a product of a different milieu, and it is not altogether unlikely that it was grafted onto the Vasudeva figure at some time. This infiltrated into the Sanskritic tradition in Harivaṁśa and Viṣṇu-purāṇa from where it burgeoned in the popular imagination of the Alwars and returned into the pan-Indian Sanskrit tradition with a deeper philosophical and theological framework in the Bhāgavatam.

Meanwhile the folk tradition continued to grow and in Gīta-govinda found cross-pollination with the Sanskrit dramatic tradition, revitalizing both. This primarily influenced the folk presentation of Krishna līlā in Bengal, which grew into a form that presented an entirely novel version of the Krishna story in the Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana, where most of the usual elements of the Puranic legend of Krishna are entirely missing. We have seen some of these original elements of SKK here: Dāna-līlā, Nauka-līlā, Bhāra-khaṇḍa, Vaṁśī-caurī, Bāṇa-khaṇḍa, etc., are all entirely new additions. Only in Krishna's finally leaving for Mathura to kill Kamsa, where Krishna takes up his duty as an incarnation to rid the world of evil forces, do the two stories meet again. Even the Rasa-līlā, the jewel in the crown of the Bhāgavatam and the seed of all erotic manifestations in Krishna's Vrindavan līlā, takes an entirely different form in SKK. And clearly Devakinandan Singh is trying to harmonize the best of both the Bhāgavata and the SKK tradition.

I have already mentioned before my belief that the Bhāgavata-purāṇa, whenever it may have been composed, most likely did not arrive in Bengal, or at least did not strike the popular imagination in Bengal, until the 15th century. In all the Bengali works that are influenced by the Bhāgavatam in this time period (i.e., the period that precedes Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's direct influence), there is a bias towards the līlā portions, not the philosophical ones. In other words, Śrī-kṛṣṇa-vijaya, Gopala-vijaya, and Kṛṣṇa-prema-taraṅgiṇī, etc., only summarize partially the prayers of the demigods, Indra or Lord Brahma, if at all, and certainly do not bother with the subtleties contained in them.

Perhaps it was Mahaprabhu's own influence, or that of Sridhar Swami and his followers a bit earlier on, that gave the Bhāgavata's philosophical depth influential appeal to intellectuals, but the distinction between this theological richness and the līlā itself is something that can clearly be found at the basis of the classical/folk divide. Even Krishnadas Kaviraja was conscious of it in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, where he writes:

jadi keha hena kaya, grantha kaila śloka-maya,
itara jane nāribe bujhite
prabhura jei ācaraṇa, sei kari varṇana,
sarva-citta nāri ārādhite
If one says that I have written this book full of Sanskrit verses and that therefore ordinary people will not be able to understand it, I say that I am describing the Lord’s activities and simply cannot please everyone. (CC 2.2.85)
nāhi kāhāṅ savirodha, nāhi kāhāṅ anurodha,
sahaja vastu kari vivaraṇa
jadi hoy rāgoddeśa, tāhāṅ hoye āveśa,
sahaja vastu nā jāya likhana
In this book I am nowhere engaged in a polemic, nor am I beholden to anyone. I am simply trying to describe the topic as it is. If I write in order to please someone else and make that my principal purpose, then I cannot possibly write on the topic naturally. (CC 2.2.86)
jebā nāhi bujhe keha, śunite śunite seha,
ki adbhuta caitanya-carita
kṛṣṇe upajibe prīti, jānibe rasera rīti,
śunile-i boro hoy hita
Even if one should not understand what I write, if he goes on hearing Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's pastimes, he will come to recognize their wonders. Love for Krishna will awaken in him and he will understand the ways that rasa is experienced. Whoever hears it will benefit greatly. (CC 2.2.87)
bhāgavata śloka-maya, ṭīkā tāra saṁskṛta hoy,
tabu kaiche bujhe tri-bhuvana
ihāṅ śloka dui cāri, tāra vyākhyā bhāṣā kari,
kene nā bujhibe sarva-jana
The Bhāgavata is full of Sanskrit verses, and its commentaries are also in Sanskrit. How is it then that everyone in the world seems to understand it? Here I have included only the occasional Sanskrit quote and I explain it in the vernacular. So why should it not be understood by everyone? (CC 2.2.88)

So even though he was writing in Bengali, Krishnadas was consciously presenting a vision of Radha Krishna līlā that had been made more sophisticated by the rich contributions of both the Sanskrit dramatic tradition as well as the Bhāgavatam. Krishnadas had both Rupa Goswami's revamping of the former and Jiva Goswami's work on the Bhāgavatam to help him shape this vision and it was that which he was trying to communicate.

You have to remember that the Gaudiya Vaishnava movement spread through Bengal not simply through Harinam and theological discourses, but also through līlā-kīrtana, which reshaped by the Goswamis' classically-based presentation invigorated Bengali popular culture as well.

Most of the authors writing on SKK have shown where Gīta-govinda influenced Chandidas. But even in Gopāla-vijaya, we can see how classical Sanskrit forms had begun to enter the popular culture.

I am getting a little ragged here with various posts that are going all over the place and seem to have no particular order. Please forgive me and you will have to buy the book when this all eventually gets whacked into shape. The article I am working on next is the one on the DKK outline, but really all the current articles have something to do with this subject.



Radhe Radhe !

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