Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Structure of Dāna-keli-kaumudī

I have been writing about the folk and classical versions of the dāna-keli-līlā, in particular with reference to its classicization in the DKK. My point has been that the difference between the folk tradition and the classical is similar to most low-brow and high-brow culture. In one of my last posts, I gave the analogy of folk music to a symphony, or folk stories to an opera as being the kind of distinction that could be made. There will always be people who favor one or the other, but I think it can be said without too much exaggeration that the latter does require and expect a greater amount of education, or saṁskāra, on the part of the audience.

This will, as we have been discussing in the comments on some articles on culture, always be a point of contention: how to popularize something while at the same time making its full power and richenss available; the whole question is one of throwing pearls before swine. I have been reading a couple of nice books that go into many of these questions and I would like to review them in the coming days, but let me go on here with the necessary exercise of describing the structure of Dāna-keli-kaumudī, which will make it a bit easier to see how the classical form of the Sanskrit play, as well as Rupa Goswami’s structuring of the pastime itself, reveal those elements that he wanted to prioritize.

In this discussion, special attention is being paid to the verses, which simply on account of their form should be considered to have content that is to be prioritized. Moreover, verses of greater length are also considered to have somewhat greater weight. I have divided them into short, medium and long verses: short ones include the āryā type, anuṣṭhubh and triṣṭubh (with 11 syllables to a line). Medium verses include the jagatī type, praharṣiṇī (13), vasanta-tilaka (14) and mālatī (15). Medium-long includes the several varieties of 17-syllable verse (pṛthvī, śikhariṇī, mandākrāntā) and long verses are śārdūla-vikrīḍita (19) and sragdharā (21).

It should also be noted that verses often come in bunches. I haven’t done an analysis of this yet, but it seems that these represent musical interludes, even when they are not of the same metrical form.

Page numbers here, for the sake of convenience, are based on Rasa Bihari Lal and Sons edition translated by Kushakratha and revised by Bhumipati Das. Verses are NOT indicated in that edition, however, which is truly an oversight. You can, of course, find the Grantha Mandir versions of DKK here and here.


All Sanskrit plays begin with a customary three-part introduction: nāndī, prastāvanā, and viṣkambhaka.

(1) The nāndī is the maṅgalācaraṇa or invocatory verse(s). In DKK, there are two verses, a detailed explanation of which is being given on this blog. The first one is up and there will be at least two more. Links will be provided. (Verses 1 and 2) These are significant because in three ways they indicate the purpose of the work—directly through vastu-nirdeśa, and also indirectly through the namaskāra and the blessing. As argued in the abovementioned posts, the prominent element in both nandi verses is Radha, both in her external responses to her love (kilakiñcita), and in the power of her love itself (anurāga).

Sudipta Kaviraja observes that “in Gaudiya Vaishnava theory, ironically, Krishna is gradually relegated to a distant eminence, and the whole metaphorical ground is gradually occupied by an increasingly resplendent Radha. The cult of eroticism undergoes a subtle internal transformation—the love, and its many states which are described become increasingly the states of love of a feminine figure instead of a male.” (The Unhappy Consciousness, 90)

He goes on to say that this is a largely uninterpreted and unnoticed phenomenon, which may be true for academic outsiders, but is certainly not for insiders of the tradition, as these two verses clearly show. The gradual coming into prominence of Radha in the work of Jayadeva, Chandidas, and Vidyapati is of importance central to the development of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, which has its apotheosis in Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who incarnated that love.

The subject matter of the Dāna-keli-kaumudī is Radha’s love, her anurāga, and the dāna-līlā is simply the occasion for that love to be manifested.

(2) The prastāvanā (Verses 3-8) is a little dialogue between the director or sūtradhāra and the chief actor. These two will normally go on to play the prominent roles in the play itself. The prastāvanā is a more general introduction and customarily includes the name of the play and its author, more obeisances, in this case to Sanatan Goswami. Where relevant, it usually also names the play's sponsor, etc.

In DKK, the prastāvanā begins with the very uncustomary description of the devotee audience at Govardhan, who are ecstatically responding to the two nāndī verses. This is very interesting in that it delimits, as much as the choice of language, the potential audience to an elite group : fully committed practitioners of bhakti-sādhana who are living in the Holy Dham. We have been talking about saṁskāra frequently and there will be more occasion to do so, especially in the article reviewing Sudipta Kaviraj’s book, so check that out. (LINK).

The point I would like to make here, once again, is that the āśraya-tattva is being given prominence over the viṣaya, only the locus of the aśraya here is in the sādhaka-bhakta, not the nitya-siddha pārṣada. They are the exemplars of the actual audience, guiding them in their response to the play that will follow.

The third of these three verses gives us the philosophical reason justifying the devotees’ reaction.

The banter and love-quarrels
of the son of Nanda and Srimati Radharani
would stun the swans on entering their ears
and turn them away from even the purest nectar.
And it does the same to the paramahamsas,
making them indifferent to the joys of Brahman realization.
(3) After a segue based on a pun on the word nāndīmukhī, another introductory scene called the viṣkambhaka (verses 9-12) begins. Its purpose is to establish the specific circumstances of the plot. A couple of minor characters come on stage and allow the sūtradhāra and naṭa leave to put the final touches on their costumes and makeup. In DKK, these characters are Vrinda Devi and Subala, who let us know that Radha and the gopis are going to Govardhan with ghee for a sacrifice that has been sponsored by Vasudeva. They will be amply rewarded with jewels and brahminical blessings for bringing the ghee. These details are mostly given in prose, but the concluding portion, a three-verse block description of Radha, is to be sung. These welcome Radha and the sakhis on stage by glorifying her appearance and beauty.
Wrapped round her head like a coiled snake
is a piece of fine red cloth;
held motionless upon it is a golden jug
containing bright, clear ghee for the sacrifice.
Look, coming from afar, is Radha;
smiling and surrounded by her friends,
who are also carrying golden pots of ghee,
she is approaching the banks of the Manasa Ganga. (10)

Included in these verses is Vrinda Devi’s wistful prayer, asking for service to Srimati Radharani, which should be considered significant here.
Even though the enemy of Madhu would shamelessly
abandon a woman he desires, though she be overcome with jealousy,
to give me honor, insignificant as grass though I am,
I have never had the opportunity to serve Radha.
Who then on this earth can possibly praise her adequately? (11)

Vrinda Devi here thus represents mañjarī-bhāva (the priya-narma-sakhī), I would say, and Subala, as the priya-narma-sakhā. Both are, again, āśraya-tattva, but of the Yugala-kishora, or Divine Couple. Subala and Vrinda Devi are complicit: one is Krishna's buddy, the other Radha's, but both are serving the union of the Divine Couple as represented by this joyful celebration of the dāna-līlā.

So clearly, the entire three part introduction, from different angles of vision, has not only introduced us to the subject of the play, but also to the mode of its appreciation.

The play proper.

The DKK is a bhaṇikā or one-act play, in which the action all takes place in a single time frame and locale. Nevertheless, we can make a rough division of its action into five sections. I am here deliberately going to draw special attention to those features that make DKK distinct from the other versions of dāna-līlā that we have already looked at, most particularly to the Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana.

(1) Section I, Part I

The first section can be further subdivided into two: In the first, we see Radha and her friends (Lalita, Visakha, Chitra and Champakalata) walking towards Govinda Kund where the sacrifice is to be held; the second comes when they see Krishna and Krishna sees them. This first part ends on page 10 when the girls pretend not to notice Krishna and walk on by. Krishna sends Subala to stop them, and with that, the mutual insults of Part 2 begin.

This first section is heavy on verses (13-35), many of which are in the medium-long meters, and several of the long śārdūla-vikrīḍita. The way I see this being enacted is as a kind of musical overture, with a great deal of singing, dancing and instrumentation. Just as in the traditional līlā-kīrtana in Bengal, the beginning is heavily musical and is then followed by narration with more intermittent singing, so too here. The same can be said, I think, of Western musical theatre forms.

These verses are mostly in groups of three or four, with different related sub-themes, and evidently would have the further purpose of getting the audience worked up, in the mood, and absorbed in the characters.

The verses are again mostly emotional and descriptive. The gopis are teasing Radha about Krishna, while Radha is meditating on the good fortune of Nandimukhi and wants to become initiated into the practices that led to her good fortune in being able to see Krishna so constantly. This goes on to a similar soliloquy about the flute. The gopis and Vrinda Devi continue teasing Radha as well as whetting her appetite to see Krishna, as well as glorifying her.

Only in verse 19 are we are given a bit of a foretaste of the action to follow when Vrinda Devi says :
Look at that bumblebee amusing himself in the lotus garden,
his lower body covered with bright yellow pollen.
He is wandering lustily amongst the female bees,
shaking his head and making aggressive sounds.
Intoxicated, he suddenly blocks their movement.

The first part of this first section is the longer and can be said to conclude with three verses (27-29) that can all be used as examples of anuraga as it is described in Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi. In other words, the anurāga that was the subject of the second nāndī verse is brought into prominence at the conclusion of our introduction to the supreme āśraya of love, Srimati Radharani. The connection to the nāndī verses has been made. The development of āśraya-tattva from the this-worldly sādhaka, to the nitya-siddha pārṣadas, to the supreme, samaṣṭi āśraya tattva, Srimati Radharani herself, has been established.

Radha says,
Again and again, Hari has appeared in the line of my vision,
and yet he appears so new each time.
It seems as if I had never before seen this sweetness of his beauty.
O friend, these eyes are unable to attain even a drop
of the beauty that scintillates constantly
in even a tiny portion of his limbs. (Verse 27, UN 14.147 as example of anurāga).
Vrinda Devi answers:

Whenever you see Madhava before you,
you speak as though you had never seen him before.
Is he really ever-fresh, or is it your eyes
that are always maddened by love
and so surprised at what they see? (28)

Section 1, Part 2
When Radha and Krishna see each other, they both describe the beauty of their respective love object and their feelings in reaction to it. So here, Rupa Goswami has followed the classical model by zeroing in on the nāyikā first and the nāyaka only second. Even though Krishna, through Radha’s description as the object of her love, is clearly the viṣaya, his attraction and love for her must also be told. Nevertheless, though we had many verses about Radha's feelings, Krishna only gets two or three.
Thus, Rupa Goswami has more adequately prepared us for the contentiousness of the arguments that will follow than we were in either the SKK or GoVi, because we already know how deeply Radha loves Krishna. Furthermore, as already explained in the second article on the nāndī verses, there is an awareness on the part of everyone that though this is technically a pūrva-rāga circumstance, in fact, Radha and Krishna are self-consciously eternal partners. Though such things may have been stated overtly in the SKK and DKK, it is most clearly felt here.

I would like to discuss the problem that this has for rasa and in the conflict between the modern/folk and classical approaches. This will have to be done elsewhere. It is the problem of ideal to situation: the classical model prefers to present the transcendent ideal, the modern/folk approach concentrates on the "facts" or "story."

Part II.
Now the fun begins. This is a much longer section (pages 11-43) in which you get all the back-and-forth banter and flirtation. There is negotiation over the taxes that must be paid, the hurling of insults, various kinds of politics and subterfuge as Madhumangala tries to extract bribes and so on. This section is dominated by prose, even though there are 40 verses in it. Even so, at least half of the verses are in the shorter meters. Many of them are short quips or clever subhashitas with puns in them and so. A lot of them are paired, as quick repartees.

Further analysis is needed here to compare specific features of this banter with that found in SKK or GoVi, for there are many differences and similarities. Naturally, Rupa Goswami remains true to his principles and purpose and within the bounds of classical taste. And even those portions spoken in Prakrit contain more sophisticated word play and cultural references than the vernacular versions. But let us not worry about all that here.

Part III
This section (pages 43-50) is much shorter again, but quite significant in that it can be said to be a metaphorical theological interlude. It is quite different from the preceding in that it contains a lengthy narrative. In general, I would say that this is a weakness of Sanskrit drama if there were to be no enactment involved. Such as in the Caitanya-candrodaya-nāṭaka, where lengthy portions contain a narration of Chaitanya’s activities rather than actual interaction of characters on stage. Since there are no stage directions, it is unclear what the audience would be doing other than listening. But I assume that such portions would be mimed or danced so that their attention would be engaged.

This section is about legitimacy. What right does Krishna have to claim authority over Radha? And isn't Radha the real queen of Vrindavan? Who is the real ruler of the land? To counteract Krishna's claim, the sakhis tell the story of how Radha was crowned queen of Vrindavan in the presence of all the holy rivers and goddesses of heaven. It is the same material that is much more extensively given in Mādhava-mahotsava.

There are 10 verses in this description, of which 4 are in śārdūla and one in sragdharā. In terms of dramatic technique it might not be so great, but it takes us out of the playful banter for a second and into the theological dimension of Radha's aiśvarya.

Nevertheless, the section ends with Krishna and his friends reestablishing his authority. But in not exactly a direct way. Once again it is that old "Kama Chakravarti" or "King Eros" who stands above all.
Radha, you are the ruler of only one forest,
but he is master of all twelve forests.
And this too is only a minor aspect of his empire,
for he is the deity of everyone residing in all these universes.
Thus you are nothing better than a satrap,
while Manmatha the Great is the emperor of all.
Listen to the beneficial advice I give you
and stop being so stubborn about paying him his due. (84)

And a bit further on:
Subala: (angrily) Visakha! You have really gotten on your high horse, haven't you? You don't really know the truth of the matter, but intoxicated with the arrogance of your foolish friend, you go on blabbering...

Visakha: (smiling sarcastically) What is the truth of the matter, then, pray tell?

Subala: There is no need of going into great detail. I will simply tell you the basics. The person we have called Manmatha the Great, the emperor over all, is certainly present here in the form of my dear friend. From a higher point of view, there is absolutely no different between them.
This is followed by a few familiar scriptural references from Gopāla-tāpanī Upaniṣad, Kṛṣṇopaniṣad, etc. In essence, what we have here is similar to the śuka-śārikā quarrels in the Govinda-līlāmṛta and elsewhere. This is such a favorite theme that Kavi Karnapur also picks up on it in the CC Nataka's version of dāna-līlā discussed earlier.

Part IV
Now Krishna has Radha and the gopis on the defensive again. This section is similar to Part II in many ways and I haven't got the time to really analyze the difference. But things are getting a little more tense. Radha really wants to get away, etc. (pages 51-63, Verses 86-94, again half are short, only two are long)

Part V

Now Paurnamasi comes on the scene to settle the dispute. (pages 64-68, verses 95-99). The grand finale is the bharata-vākyam, where Paurnamasi asks Krishna for the following blessings. The first one is for all devotees, the second for Raghunath Das in particular:
The fortunate land of Mathura
is surrounded by woods that exude the fragrance
of the places where you have had your pastimes,
it is encircled by nectarean sweetness on all sides.

I pray that you will eternally continue these sports there
with a flute dancing on your lips
and accompanied by us, down to our souls
fully enchanted in the identity of frivolous milkmaids. (98)

There is a person who has given up all other activities
to take up residence on the banks of Radha Kund,
and there yearns to directly serve the Divine Couple.

O Madhava, you whose lustrous playful glance
and the touch of whose lotus feet
cause the Vrindavana forest to prosper --
please make the tree of his wishes bear fruit. (99)

An important part of the analysis has to be made by comparing the two longer, mostly prose sections, with the SKK and GoVi. A lot of those bits spring out at one while going through it, but it will be harder work pinpointing the similarities in detail.

But what makes DKK really different from these earlier versions are the sections I, III and V, along with the introductory materials. And what stands out here is the following:

(1) The glorification of Radha's love from the very beginning. It is not something that has a beginning, but like Rupa says in Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi 15.42, Radha and the other gopis are just naturally, causelessly, beginninglessly, in love with Krishna. Any appearance of beginnings or causes is just for show.

(2) The glorification of Radha herself as queen of Vrindavan. She is the mistress of Krishna's līlā territory.

(3) Krishna as Kamadeva. This idea, which I have been trying to get my head around every since I got into this, is nowhere in the previous material. It somehow seems to be the essence of Rupa Goswami's version of Vaishnavism.

At any rate, I am going to leave this here and we will have occasion to discuss these elements in more detail later.


Jagat said...

One thing that came of this: I would like to see this play performed. Maybe I could do it with the Gurukula students in Rishikesh... We have dancers, singers and musicians. The thing is it is a bit long and may be too much. And the language... Maybe we would have to do it in Hindi.

Anonymous said...

Not related to this present topic but, just wanted to say that I appreciate the honesty of this site in that no comments are blocked unless they are truly offensive, that is, offensive to all readers. But a differing opinion on topic, even if passionate, is never refused a voice here. Or so thats what it seems.

There was a time recently when I concurred with the thought that the vaisnava world needed a saner vaisnavism. Now, on observing different devotee sites on the Internet, it's becoming clear that the real need among devotees is not so much for sanity and reason, but for honesty. We are in dire need of an honest vaisnavism (if we can even work out the redundance). But there you have it, we have become the dishonest-vaisnavas. I am sorry to say that most devotess holding public forums out there, from the whacko type to the very prestigious - their presence in public are dishonest in that they arbitrarily manipulate comments from participants while freely presenting their opinions in platters of obvious pseudo conclusion. Granted, they are owners of their own space. But that is precisely where the dishonesty is lodged. Vaisnavism is a not about making up our space DESPITE of others, but creating a space BECAUSE of others.

Dishonestly shieding oneself from antagonists, talking about Sakhya bhava while disregarding its very principle, talking about a non bengali Mahaprabhu, Michael Jackson incarnated and what not, and yet putting a muzzle on those who question such folly, is that the new vaisnavism we are faced with? Eat it our beat it? A one way way to love? Really people, lets be honest.

ps: of course I include myself here, need be true to my faith, whatever it may reveal itself to be.