I don’t think we can look at the vibhur api verse (DKK 2) without being subliminally reminded of a similar one from Govinda-līlāmṛta, also quoted in Caitanya-caritāmṛta. This verse, in the same meter and beginning with the same word, was almost surely written with the earlier one in mind. It should be noted that like many other classic poets, Kaviraj Goswami has done this in other cases. Compare, for example, GLA 10.14 to Kāvya-prakāśa 5.128. And Rupa Goswami’s own pastiches of classical verses, such as the priyaḥ so’yaṁ kṛṣṇaḥ verse (CC 2.1.76, Padyāvali 383), are well known. In such cases, it is always an intriguing exercise to treat the latter verse as a commentary on the former.
Kaviraj Goswami's verse goes like this:
kṣaṇam api rādhā-kṛṣṇayor yā ṛte svāḥ
pravahati rasa-puṣṭiṁ cid-vibhūtīr iveśaḥ
śrayati na padam āsāṁ kaḥ sakhīnāṁ rasajṣaḥ
Although the love of Radha and KrishnaThis verse has been of interest to me ever since I first heard it. It is quoted in the Rāmānanda-saṁvāda as a glorification of the necessity of taking shelter of the sakhis. Generally, the Govinda-līlāmṛta does not make many philosophical or theological statements, as it is a līlā-grantha. Here, however, is a theological statement about rasa-tattva and līlā-tattva that is quite unique. Such a statement cannot even be found in the works of Rupa Goswami, the master of devotional rasa theory.
is infinitely great, supremely joyful, and self-effulgent,
it never reaches the full expression of rasa
without the sakhis,
any more than the Supreme Lord does
without his spiritual potencies.
So what knower of rasa would not
take shelter of them?
(CC 2.8.205, GLA 10.17)
God as Love
In BRS 2.1.59, Rupa Goswami shows that his measure of God is to be found in rasa. We have already shown a progression of sorts in the introductory portions of the DKK (summary of the DKK), but in this verse, Krishnadas goes even one step further than Sri Rupa.
Without the sakhis, Radha and Krishna's bhāva, even though it is all-pervading, full of joy and self-luminous (sat, ānanda, cit), does not fulfill its potential as rasa. And, by way of example, Krishnadas says that the Supreme Lord (here deliberately unnamed) similarly does not attain rasa-puṣṭi without his cid-vibhūti, or spiritual opulences. The adjectives that applied to bhāva (infinitely great, supremely joyful, and self-effulgent) also apply to īśa, and indeed would be more familiarly used in the context of the Vedantic descriptions of the Absolute.
The point of the example is both essential to Vaishnava theology and familiar: God, who by definition is complete, still "needs" his energies in order to fully manifest his completeness. God does not "need" the creation, since it is part of his very being, and yet he does, because only by exercising those energies does he fulfill the meaning of being God. Cit here means separated or differentiated consciousness, i.e., "an other." This includes not only the jiva, but the "separated Moiety" or "alienated Self of God," Radha.
If we follow strictly the structure of the simile in the verse, Radha and Krishna's bhāva is being compared to God, the sakhis to His spiritual energies. Clearly a transposition has taken place from the DKK verse we have just studied. There we observed in the two nāndī verses that the usual place of God or a god had been subtly replaced in verse 1 by a concrete or external manifestation of love (i.e., the kilakiñcita alaṅkāra/anubhāva), and in verse 2 by the sthāyi-bhāva called anurāga.
The divine attribute vibhu, which is common to both DKK 2 and the GLA verse above is in neither case being applied to a personal form of God, nor to Radha or Krishna individually, nor even to the Divine Couple taken together, but to their love itself. But whereas Rupa took Radha's love as the Absolute, Kaviraja Goswami here takes the mutual love of the Divine Couple as the highest truth.
I cannot help but think here of Sri Jiva Prabhu’s verse from Gopāla-campū, which makes a somewhat similar statement:
sphurat-tat-tad-vastrāv iti budha-janair niścitam idam
sa ko'py accha-premā vilasad-ubhaya-sphūrtikatayā
dadhan mūrti-bhāvaṁ pṛthag apṛthag apy āvirudabhūt
Wise persons have determined that thoughRadha and Krishna are absorbed in thought of each other, and thus their minds are golden and blackish in color due to this identification. Moreover, Krishna wears a golden cloth, Radha a dark blue dress. These are said to symbolize their absorption in thought of one another. But the conclusion of the verse is not about them per se. Rather Jiva says that some (ko’pi) unfathomable, undetermined Love has manifested in this dual form, a Divine Couple that is so intermingled that in a constantly expanding manner, internally and externally, they replicate each other.
these Two are of a black and golden hue respectively,
in their minds they are of the opposite colors;
so too, externally, are their clothes.
This is some pure, unblemished love,
which has become incarnate,
taking on this form with a dual manifestation,
at once divided and a unity. (GC 1.15.2)
Rasa-rāja and Mahābhāva
The common term in Kaviraja Goswami's simile is pravahati rasa-puṣṭim, "reaches the full expression of rasa." We know from the rasa-śāstra that bhāva develops into or becomes rasa, but how does this apply to īśa?
Though we stated above that īśa has deliberately been left unnamed, we should take it that a statement is being made about all concepts of God, up to and including Krishna, the rasa-rāja, and his cid-vibhūti, Srimati Radharani, who is the mahā-bhāva.
In a broader sense, the statement could be seen as an implicit reference to the guiding principle of the bhakti-rasa śāstra, the mahā-vākya from the Taittiriya Upanishad, raso vai saḥ: "Rasa is the Supreme Truth."
This supreme truth of rasa is prema. Though this is a principle rather than a person, we should not be afraid that this implies a kind of impersonalism. God is not just a person; God is also an idea and a principle, and only by understanding God as such do we get a full understanding of what God is. Love cannot exist without plurality or personhood, so any talk of symbol, metaphor or reduction to principles should not be misunderstood as Mayavada; it is achintya-bhedābheda.
Let us explore this a little further: The Taittiriya Upanishad says that the Supreme Truth is rasa, and whosoever attains rasa becomes happy (yaṁ hy evāyaṁ labdhvānandī bhavati). Thus, by definition, rasa is the object and the soul who attains rasa, the sādhaka, is the subject. The idea of subject (āśraya) and object (viṣaya) is an essential distinction in rasa theory. Rasa is an experience; one that is had by a subject.
In bhakti-rasa theory, the subject, the one experiencing love for the object, is of the greatest interest. In fact, it may be said that the object, God, is so multi-dimensional that he practically loses any semblance of individual truth, mirroring rather the individual devotee than being any clearly defined ding as sich. The closer we examine the development of bhakti-rasa theory, with its emphasis on sthāyi-bhāvas, the safer it is to say that it adheres to some version of the idea of “projection,” not in its reductive sense but as an affirmation of his glory. God becomes what his devotee makes of him. The character of the love defines the object. He is Rasa-rāja only because of Mahā-bhāva.
The Vaishnava philosophy, we shall see, ultimately synthesizes the problem of projection. We shall consider this question in another place, but let us, for the time being, just consider what the Vaishnava acharyas made of it.
Generally speaking, God is seen as one cause (vibhāva) of love: its object, which we have here identified with rasa itself. The devotee is the āśraya, or reservoir of loving feeling. Rupa talks about two basic kinds of āśraya--the sādhaka and the siddha or pārṣad; Radha is the supreme siddha. In the hierarchy of rasa, Krishna is the Rasa-rāja, the king of rasa—in the sense that there is no greater attainment than this form. That by which this form is attained is Mahā-bhāva, personified as Radha, the Mahā-bhāva-svarūpiṇī.
Rati and Kāma
To look at it another way, Krishna is also known as the Supreme Eros, the aprākṛta-navīna-madana. And since Kama’s wife is Rati, Radha can also be recognized as Rati.
Since Rati and Kama are somewhat multifaceted terms, we shall have to look a little more closely at them. Kāma is usually translated as desire, and most often as sexual desire. (As in BhP 10.90.48, vardhayan kāma-devam, or in the Gita). But when talking about Krishna as Kāmadeva, the term is being used differently: there Kāma-deva is described as attractive power: E.g. “as beautiful as a million Cupids” ( kandarpa-koṭi-kamanīya-viśeṣa-śobhā ). In other words, kāma is the attractive force that produces desire. The idea of Krishna as sākṣān manmatha-manmatha, "the very churner of the mind of him who churns minds," means that Krishna's attractive power is so great that any other force of attraction is rerouted towards himself.
The word rati is usually seen as the object of kāma: sexual desire leads to sexual intercourse. Therefore rati is the corrollary, object, wife or servant of kāma. On the other hand, rati is (as we have seen), also seen as a synonym of bhāva. Rati means attachment or love and, by the same token, kāma is the object to be attained. This is the sense of kāma in the goals of life or puruṣārthas, where it is classified as the third objective.
So when we speak of Krishna as Kama, it does not mean the desire itself, but the attractive object of desire, and rati does not mean the sexual act, but the act of loving and desiring that object. Nevertheless, since the two terms are almost interchangeable, we must remember and recognize the mutuality of love—lovers are ideally always both subject and object of their love.
In the same way, prema is seen both as subject experience and objective attainment. In fact, prema might be seen as the union of the two in an inseparable amalgam, since the attainment of spiritual perfection could be interpreted as the perfect desire perfectly fulfilled.
Now, the above is fairly familiar territory, because we are seeing Krishna as the object and Radha as the subject. But in Krishnadas Kaviraj's verse, a new subjective element has been introduced: the sakhis. And since they are a new āśraya, the nature of the viṣaya has also changed. And, in this refined understanding, Krishna alone cannot be the Supreme Truth as rasa. On his own, in fact, he cannot be the object to be attained. Since rasa has no meaning without bhāva, the object to be attained is the combination of rasa and bhāva.
Now we can understand why Rupa Goswami breaks down madhura-rasa into two categories: sambhogeccha-mayī and tad-bhāveccha-mayī. The use of language here is right away interesting. The mystics who use the language of direct enjoyment—the Bilvamangalas, etc.—are being subtly criticized by the use of the word sambhoga, which is the term for sexual enjoyment. It implies a kāma in the usual ego-centered carnal sense and all that this entails.
This should not be misunderstood. Rupa Goswami discusses the matter in the section on rāgānugā bhakti, the sādhana for attaining madhura-rasa. It is, however, a subtle reference to one inherent problem in the entire question of spiritual life: the contradiction between the pleasure promised in spiritual life and desirelessness needed to attain it. Union with God (sambhoga) is the promise, but freedom from selfish desire is the necessary condition to fulfill it. The end of the first chapter of the Rasa-līlā in the Bhāgavata is also dealing with this problem.
Rupa Goswami tells us that the gopis' love for Krishna, even though taking a sensual form, is not kāma, but prema. Even so, he is hinting that this mood is for them, not for us, and that even to strive for it is somehow lesser. The expression tad-bhāvecchā, "desiring their mood," should be understood as a recognition that the bhāva, or Mahā-bhāva, since it is an integral part of the Absolute Truth as rasa, cannot be separated from it. And that therefore the mystical participation in that combined form of God as Love is a higher experience of rasa than any attempt to experience God partially by breaking of part of it, even if it should be named rasa-rāja.
In other words, rasa does not exist symbolically, externally, but in the union of desire with the desired object. That can only exist in the union of Rasarāja with Mahābhāva, where the Supreme Truth, eternally divided for the sake of experiencing Love, is combined in eternal union. Thus, the object, the viṣaya, ceases to be God as one or the other, but is the Divine Couple in eternal union.
This is, of course, the meaning behind Krishnadas Kaviraja's account of Ramananda Raya seeing Mahaprabhu as Rasa-rāja and Mahā-bhāva as being combined in one form (CC 2.8.281).
That eternal union, of course, has within it the appearance of separations, but these are all just waves in the ocean. Jiva has to make a leap from the theological intricacies that are spelled out in the Bhāgavata-purāṇa, to come to this conclusion in his concluding verse to Prīti-sandarbha:
pratyāśaṁ sumanaḥ-phalodaya-vidhau sāmodam āmoditaḥ
vṛndāraṇya-bhuvi prakāśa-madhuraḥ sarvātiśāyi-śriyā
rādhā-mādhavayoḥ pramodayatu mām ullāsa-kalpa-drumaḥ
The girlfriends of Srimati Radharani carefully nurture the desire tree of Sri Sri Radha and Madhava’s jubilant pastimes in Vrindavan’s fertile soil, in constant expectation of seeing its beautiful flowers and fruits; they watch it develop and grow, and when those flowers and fruits appear, they are the ones to relish them. May that tree, by its unparalleled beauty, give pleasure to us also.Sakhi as Poet
Now here we can see the process of displacement as it has taken place. It is about finding a place for the devotee when the personal God is not seen so much in terms of the devotee's one-on-one direct experience. Rather, in the way of the rasa theorists, it comes about through identification with Radha's devotion; it is something that is both ours and not ours.
Sudhir Das gives us an inkling of how this process went on historically:
In the songs of the Alwars or of the Virashaivas of Mira and Kabir, there is a personal and direct dialogue between god and devotee; their poems are poems of personal experience and emotion. In the Radha legend, the expression assumed a new form: now there emerged a new lyrical from where the participants are Radha and Krishna and the poet is the narrator of that experience. (Mad Lover, p.17)The logical conclusion of this process is sakhī-bhāva. The sakhīs both expand Radha and Krishna’s pastime, and at the same time they enjoy it. The focus has changed not only from the immediate experience of the devotee with God in a loving relationship to one on Radha, but has continued to one on the Divine Couple, with the locus of identification being situated in the sakhis.
So we started with the mystic poet interacting directly with God and from there went to the poet writing about the locus of love and God, and then moved on to the [sādhaka] devotee poet writing about the [siddha] poets, i.e., the creators of the līlā and the tasters of the rasa, and the Divine Couple.
Krishnadas Kaviraj’s own text, for which the vibhur atisukha-rūpa- verse is given as evidence, runs as follows:
dāsya vātsalyādi bhāvera nā hoy gocara
sabe eka sakhī gaṇera iha adhikāra
sakhī hoite hoy ei līlāra vistara
sakhī binu ei līlāra puṣṭi nāhi hoy
sakhī līlā vistāriyā sakhī āsvādoy
sakhī vina ei līlāra anyera nāhi gati
sakhī-bhāve tāre jei kore anugati
rādhā kṛṣṇa kuñja seva sādhya sei pāya
sei sādhya pāite ara nāhiko upāya
These līlās of Radha and Krishna are most secret and hidden. They are outside the ken of devotees situated in the moods of servant, friend or guardian, what to speak of others. Only the sakhis have the right to enter here, for these pastimes expand out from the sakhis. Without the sakhis, these pastimes have no nourishment. The sakhis develop this līlā and they themselves relish it. Other than the sakhis, no one has a place in this līlā. Therefore, only one who follows in their footsteps, taking on their mood, can realize the ultimate goal of service to Radha and Krishna in the forest bowers of Vrindavan. There is no other procedure for achieving this goal.(CC 2.8.200-204)What in essence is being said is that the sakhis are, in the same way that a poet is, the creators of this universe:
yathāsmai rocate viśvaṁ tathedaṁ parivartate
In the limitless ocean that is the world of poetry, the poet is the one God, and it turns only for his pleasure. (Agni-purāṇa 3.9)The devotee/poet is the creator of the rasa. The Divine Union goes on forever. Though this theory is already advanced from the very beginning of has its culmination in their union. Seen through the optic of this myth, the entire creation is an attempt to reexperience this union.
On many levels, this invites us to a Freudian analysis of myth, dreams and their relation to depth psychology. But we will have to look at the all-pervasive significance of sexual symbolism and its relationship to spirituality, particularly this form of spirituality, another day.