Friday, September 18, 2009

DKK Nandi (1), Part 2: Divine Madness, Purva-raga, Nitya-lila

Divine Madness

The reference to mahā-bhāva made by Kaviraja Goswami is particularly worth noting (quoted in Part I). The principal characteristic, I believe, is the idea of a particular eternal moment or snapshot, containing all these different conflicting reactions to one particularly confusing situation. In the mahā-bhāva, as described in UN 14, Radha experiences both the ecstasies of union and separation simultaneously. Here, something similar is happening.

As we go through the sthāyi-bhāvas described in Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi, what becomes evident to the observer is that we are watching a progression of madness in love--a disorientation that progresses to the point of a complete loss of touch with reality: e.g., attributing properties to lifeless objects and even being angry and envious of them, hallucinations, seeing the beloved where he is not, etc. If, as the Gītā (2.69) says, the sage sees day where the materialistic person sees night, and vice versa, it follows that what is wisdom in the eyes of the worldly may well look like madness to the spiritually awakened.

Of course, it only means madness in a material sense: disorientation from the false reality that is forgetfulness of God. It is the madness that comes from the conflict of that experience with the apparent reality of this world. I realize here that my characterization of madness is inadequate: this is a madness of ecstasy, where the bliss of Krishna prema becomes so great that one feels unable to contain it.

Nevertheless, at present what concerns us is the historical question of the interaction of classic and folk elements, which are here being equated to idealized (classic) vs. somewhat more reality-based representations in the folk tradition of Chandi Das. In this connection, I am also interested in what problems this idealized classical approach creates; but that discussion will have to await another time.

The appropriateness of the metaphor of erotic love in spiritual life comes from its resemblance to intoxication and madness, in that in all these cases some external force overcomes the rational aspects of the self, those that tie one to the world of conventional reality, and push one to total absorption in a dimension of reality that is purely subjective.

It may be said that the Hindu idealism of the jñāna-mārga attempts to overcome the restraints imposed by objective reality through reason alone, whereas the bhakti-mārga recognizes the inherent weakness of rational forces to do the job on their own and the necessity for an emotional leap of faith, for a kind of possession or madness to overcome these limits. Thus, where the jñāna-mārga prefers a staid, rational approach to transcendence, bhakti tends to be untidy and unrestrained.

In the vernacular devotional literature of both Vaishnava and Shaiva sects there are countless examples of this. But in all of them, the prominent feature is this theme of conflicting emotions, experienced on various levels, much in the way demonstrated by the specific example of kilakiñcita.

For instance, Prahlada, who is not in madhura-rasa by any means, is described as abandoning the characteristic behavior of a young boy and acting as though possessed.

Though just a small child, Prahlada discarded all his toys. So absorbed was he in Krishna that he seemed to others to be an imbecile. As though possessed by some astral influence, he did not know this world in the way that others perceive it. Whether sitting, walking about, eating, sleeping, drinking or speaking, he did not make any of these actions the real object of his search, for he was fully embraced by Govinda.


kvacid rudati vaikuṇṭha-cintā-śabala-cetanaḥ
kvacid dhasati tac-cintā-hlāda udgāyati kvacit
nadati kvacid utkaṇṭho vilajjo nṛtyati kvacit
kvacit tad-bhāvanā-yuktas tan-mayo'nucakāra ha

Sometimes he cried, his mind merged in the thought of Lord Vaikuntha, sometimes he laughed as thoughts of him brought joy. Then he would sing aloud. Sometimes he would shout with enthusiasm, and sometimes dance shamelessly. Sometimes he became so absorbed in thoughts of him that he imitated his activities. Sometimes his body would become covered with horripilation and he would fall silent, in the bliss of having been touched by him. Motionless, in the joy of loving ecstasy, his eyes would fill with tears and he would close them. (SB 7.4.37-41)
Elsewhere, the Bhāgavatam describes the aspiring devotee tasting the fruits of his efforts in sādhana:

evaṁ-vrataḥ sva-priya-nāma-kīrtyā
jātānurāgo druta-citta uccaiḥ
hasaty atho roditi rauti gāyaty
unmādavan nrityati loka-bāhyaḥ

When a person is fixed in his vow and has come to the stage of great loving attachment to Krishna through chanting his favorite names, his mind and heart melt and he loudly laughs, cries, shouts and sings, even dancing like a madman, without a care for what anyone thinks. (11.2.40)


Vishwanath comments on the sources of the various emotional changes as the result of sometimes having visions (sphūrti) and sometimes being plunged into separation. It is also worth noting the use of the word anurāga here, as it may be of significance in our discussion of the next verse.

The third verse of the Dāna-keli-kaumudī, describing the devotees responding to the nāndī verses, is in a similar vein:

bhaktaḥ ko'pi tanos tanoti pulakair nṛtyann ihotphullatāṁ
śuṣyan ko'pi cirād vivarṇa-vadano dhatte vidīrṇaṁ manaḥ
garjjan dhāvati ko'pi vindati patan ko'py eṣa niṣpandatām
udyaty acyuta-vibhrame gatir abhūt kā stheyasām apy asau

One devotee over there is stretching his limbs,
dancing as his hairs stand on end in jubilation;
another has become motionless, his face losing color
as though his mind has been split asunder;
another is running through the crowd, shouting,
while yet another falls over, motionless.
In the confusion of love for Krishna,
such an incredible variety of reactions
is manifest in this group,
even though by nature they are very grave.


Similarly, Jayadeva provides the connection between these anubhāvas of devotion and the same external symptoms of love, when he has the go-between describe Radha’s state to Krishna in similar terms as a kaleidoscope of emotions:

vilapati hasati viṣīdati roditi
cañcati muñcati tāpam

At one moment she laments, then she laughs; then she feels sad and weeps, then she grieves and now again composes herself. (GG 4.8)


Sisir Kumar Das, in his discussion of folk and classical elements in the development of madness as an ideal in Indian and Sufi mysticism, specifies that Radharani is a nexus of such madness. What is this madness or intoxication? Without embellishing the many examples that can be found in multiple sources of Indian or Sufi poetry, we may say that it is found in the total absorption in a specifically individually perceived ideal value (i.e., the beloved, whether human or divine) against the objective values of society—-beginning with the family to the wider cultural norms.

But for this madness to be a positive value, it has to prove that it is a happier state than that provided by conventional reality. Is it necessary for there to be contrast? Is it necessary for there to be variety? If so, what is the difference between this pleasure and any other kind of pleasure, which after all, is the result of a contrast with a prior, less pleasurable state?

Evidently, Radha's madness, which is manifest in seed form in the kilakiñcita-bhāva comes out of the peculiar situation she faces: her inchoate feelings for Krishna are challenged by him as he surges out of nowhere to demand her commitment by giving herself to him physically. Certainly in the original versions of the story, we have seen that this is a tremendously difficult situation for such a young, newly married girl to be in.

Remember that in the Bhāgavatam, the construction of the gopis' relation to Krishna takes a somewhat different form. And that is really what we are looking at here. It is not just the meeting of folk traditions with the classical Sanskrit poetic tradition that is significant, but it is also the way that that the Bhāgavatam comes in and transforms the vision of Radha's personality and the development of the relationship with Krishna, as well as the deepening of the theological considerations.



Pūrva-rāga, Pārakīyā and the Nitya-līlā

In our earlier discussions of the dana-līlā, it was made clear that in the linear narrative of the folk Radha-Krishna story, i.e., that of Chandidas and Devakinandan, this particular pastime falls into the earliest segment, which we call pūrva-rāga, or the dawning of love. In our two Bengali works, this was very clear, but it is a little less so in in Dāna-keli-kaumudī.

Technically, the pūrva-rāga falls into the category of vipralambha, or separation (UN 15.4). But because it is still full of expectation, its bite is not as great as the later manifestations of separation, where doubt and insecurity play an even greater role. This play, for instance, will end with the promise of a meeting.

If we clarify the distinction between the nitya-līlā and prakaṭa-līlā, the reasons for it should become a little more clear. Although Jiva Goswami in his commentary to UN 15 says that Rupa Goswami shows a general preference for themes of the prakaṭa-līlā, i.e., the four kinds of separation, of which pūrva-rāga is one, it is clear that the major difference between Rupa Goswami and Chandidas lies in the abiding awareness of the nitya-līlā, or eternal archetype of union. He repeats this argument several times, not only in UN, but in Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta, Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, and elsewhere.

But the DKK has another dimension, that of the underlying nitya-līlā. This leads to the repeated reminders, such as the description of Radha's abhisheka, which takes place near the end of the play itself in a kind of theological diapaison. To be more clear, Rupa Goswami's rasa requires all these contradictions to be in constant play. For the devotee, awareness of Krishna's divinity, though repeatedly downplayed, is never out of the picture.

Radha and Krishna are, in their svarūpa, svakīya. Pārakīyā is an illusion of the prakaṭa-līlā, meant to enhance the pleasure of the Divine Couple by creating the sense of separation and obstacles. Rupa Goswami states that this is where the highest realm of love is established: atraiva paramotkarṣaḥ śṛṅgārasya pratiṣṭhitaḥ (UN 1.19). This is also, incidentally, the reason for the material world itself.

The characteristics of pārakīyā love are summarized by Rupa Goswami with reference to the Śṛṅgāra-tilaka of Rudrata and the Viṣṇugupta-saṁhitā:

vāmatā durlabhatvaṁ ca strīṇāṁ yā ca nivāraṇā
tad eva pañca-bāṇasya manye paramam āyudham

I hold that the God of Love’s most powerful weapons are a woman’s recalcitrance, the difficulty in attaining her, and the prohibition to doing so. (1.21)

yatra niṣedha-viśeṣaḥ sudurlabhatvaṁ ca yan mṛgākṣhīṇām
tatraiva nāgarāṇāṁ nirbharam āsajjate hṛdayam

Wherever there is a specific prohibition in relation to a beautiful woman, or some great difficulty of obtention, that is where the playboy (nāgara)’s heart becomes most attached.

The root of all madness is in the conflict between the subjective and the objective, the contrast or inner conflict between the ideal and the real. This is expressed in various ways in Radha Krishna līlā. The most obvious is that which pits the Supreme Person with the human-like activities. Another is the contrast between the svakīya and pārakīya, another that of the prakaṭa-līlā and nitya-līlā, or just union and separation. All of these dualities present certain apparently irreconcilable differences.

The contradictory nature of the kilakiñcita is emblematic of the pūrva-rāga-līlā—the contrast inner conflict of desire and the external barriers join to make the pārakīya-līlā. See also Krishnadas's Govinda-līlāmṛta verse (9.18, quoted in Part I of this article).

More of the contradiction (virodhābhāsa) that is at the heart of Krishna lila will be highlighted in the next verse.

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