Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dana-lila and the Apotheosis of Love

This is the paper I presented in New Delhi on March 10, 2010, at the Jawarhalal Nehru University Centre for Historical Studies conference named "Devotion and Dissent in Indian History."

Introduction: Symbol as Dissent

Generally speaking, when talking about the relationship of religion to revolution, we are talking about some relationship of the ideal values inculcated in religious movements and their relationship to social justice.

In this paper, I would rather like to discuss the relationship between such values as represented by the religious symbol of Radha and Krishna and what it can tell us of sexuality and sexual relationships, including the status of women.

I am adopting a Jungian view of religious symbols as products of the collective unconscious, by which I mean that they spring from a non-verbal fountain of ideas, and have sustained power to provide meaning and a sense of the sacred. As such, they may produce a huge theological and hermeneutical superstructure around them, even as they continue to function dialectically on a subliminal level. In some cases, these interpretive superstructures may in fact be deliberately misleading rather than giving a natural explanation of the symbols themselves. Nevertheless, by virtue of being invested with sacred character by the tradition, as long as they live, they continuously invite new interpretation, debate and critique.

By way of example, I may cite Lee Siegel, who in his book Laughing Matters introduces his subject by telling of how a guide showed him artwork on the ceiling and walls of a chatri in some Indian royal residence. The theme was that of Krishna’s erotic dalliances with the gopis, and the pictures were more than suggestive. The guide, a little embarrassed, immediately began to give an orthodox, metaphorical interpretation of the artwork: “This represents the relation of the individual soul to God,” he stammered. The author gave him a quizzical, silent look, then the two of them looked again at the erotic art. After a few moments’ pause, the two of them spontaneously burst into peals of laughter at the sheer absurdity of his theological excursus.

Though they are no doubt a legitimate part of the dialectic surrounding such imagae, these allegorical interpretations taken on their own are patently absurd. Nevertheless, the essential nature of Radha and Krishna’s erotic affairs, it is always emphasized by votaries, is to be characterized as prema or love, and never sensual desire, kāma or lust. In other words, one should not be misled by the sexuality, though externally it may appear similar to lust, it is in fact love.

Now this attitude or concept of a pure eroticism, or a love that incorporates sexuality but simultaneously transcends it and reaches spiritual heights, is in fact what is familiarly known in the West as romantic love. In India, however, the idea of romantic love never managed to find general social approval and has thus always been a subversive and somewhat dangerous act of rebellion. Indian society continues to this day to prefer the arranged marital system, which is known technically as prājāpātya or the joining of man and woman for the sake of procreation, or furthering the species. In this respect, relations between the sexes have been and still are for the most part, very strictly regulated and controlled by parents and family members.

Though “love marriage,” known in the past as gāndharva-vivāha, is becoming more frequent today, it has always been circumscribed in Indian society. Generally speaking, the objection to such marriages has always been that youths are too impetuous to choose a partner wisely, as adolescents are under the influence of excessive kāma (or hormones), and therefore any choice they make is likely to come from that rather than the judicious weighing of numerous rational factors. And so, the considerations of the family in economic, social status, and other matters, are not likely to be met in the case of such love connections.

Lakshmi and Narayan are the symbols of the prājāpātya marriage. In the Hindu marriage ceremony, this divine couple is invoked and the bride and groom are identified with them. The wife is said to be the goddess of fortune being brought into the household. And on the whole, no small success may be conceded to such a system. Indeed, it is one institution in which Hindus take pride, often pointing to high rates of divorce in the West as proof of the superiority of the arranged marriage.

However, the symbol of Radha and Krishna is a strong reminder that there was, in some circles at least, a reaction to and rejection of this social convention. The gap between the realities of arranged marriage and the inner romantic aspirations are illustrated in a Bengali proverb that says: “How I cherished to be married to Krishna! But my husband turned out to be neither Vishnu nor Krishna, but the grandson of Firinga, the buffoon weaver!”

Though Radha and Krishna are a manifestation of the Divine Syzygy, with all the implications inherent in this Jungian archetype, they are more than simply the external projection of repressed ideas of romantic love, and the theological and philosophical superstructures around them contribute to their depth, richness and endurance as symbols. Nevertheless, they clearly cannot be understood completely without an analysis of the the idealization of love in general and erotic love in particular.

Seen in this way, the figures of Radha and Krishna become a symbol of the protest against the conventional system of marriage, and an enduring one besides. I am personally sympathetic to the romantic ideal as an expression of humanistic values. If it cannot be openly expressed, then it must find an outlet somewhere. Furthermore, the very existence of that symbolic representation means that it will continue to exercise an effect, whether it does so openly or subversively.

There are of course, other important aspects and implications of the Radha-Krishna symbol, but we will not, in this brief presentation, deal with them.

Sanskritization as Dissent

The above premise is in fact only an underlying presupposition to what I see as a dialogue within the conceptualization of this romantic ideal. The presupposition is that the Radha-Krishna symbol, as an ideal expression of human love, had to preserve its sacred nature and therefore be protected from overly mortal characterization, as we shall attempt to show.

I would like to take an evolutionary point of view that holds that human ideals, and this means religious ideals more than any other, point to ideal humanity, and that this evolution, though subverted by the various manifestations of the “lower nature,” however we choose to define it, is nevertheless undergoing a constant purification. Dissent arises when those ideals are inadequately expressed or hypocritically espoused.

Generally, however, since the discussion of devotion and dissent generally centers around the political area, and in India particularly with regard to caste issues, sympathies naturally lie with the disenfranchised; hegemonical brahminical power and ideologies are inevitably seen as the culprit. This especially manifests in the critique of ideas of purity and institutionalized social inequality.

Thus when such “dissent” comes from the dominant social group, it is often seen negatively as surreptitious reassertion of dominance rather than an appropriate response to an inferior vision or execution of human opportunities. Now there is no doubt a critique to be made of power groups, but it is of a different sort, a failure of charity for the most part; even so, the success of what is called its hegemonic world view, of concepts of purity, etc., must in part be attributed to its persuasiveness. Purity, it must be remembered, is also a moving target, and its ossification in caste structures is artificial and false, and a perversion of the concept. Purity should rather be seen as analogous to truth, that is, an ever-receding ideal that is constantly striven for.

I will here hold that an understanding of the Radha-Krishna symbol, being designated as the highest form of the sacred, points to a particular conception of the ideal of romantic love, and that in the writing of Rupa Goswami, discomfort with the expression of that ideal in contemporary vernacular, popular literature resulted in a his devising new expressions of it.

Baru Chandidas: Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana

In the case of the Krishna mythological themes, of course, we have a long history of folk elements being coopted into the highbrow or Sanskritic culture and a reverse movement of Sanskritic sophistication being reincorporated into folk depictions of those themes. In the particular case of the dāna-līlā, it is my contention that the version of Chandidas, which is the earliest extant recounting of the theme in Bengali literature, was found wanting as an expression of romantic love and was thus superseded, at first by another Bengali version, the Gopāla-vijaya (GV) by Daivakinandan Singh, and then by Rupa Goswami’s Sanskrit version in Dāna-keli-kaumudī (DKK), which in turn influenced the renewed version of the theme which then was reintroduced in Bengali through mahājanas like Govinda Das and Jnana Das. There are, of course, other versions, but I will restrict this discussion principally to Badu Chandidas’s Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana (SKK), GV and DKK.

Almost everything about Badu Chandidas’s Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana (SKK) is in dispute: its date, its title, its author and its value. We will ignore most of these and simply accept the conventional wisdom that it does indeed predate the advent of Chaitanya, or at least his apparition as a prominent religious leader in 1510. I furthermore hold that SKK is likely representative of the Krishna myth cycle as it was popular in the vernacular prior to the sanitizing or sanskritizing influence of the Bhāgavata-purāṇa.

It must be noted here that in one sense, SKK has been retrieved from the dustbin of history and is thus of interest as an archeological rather than a living specimen. It is, of course, improper to attribute a moral value to inexorable time—why some things survive and others don’t—but in this case I am going to be bold and say that the Krishna in SKK ceased to appeal to audiences whose sensibilities had been transformed by the theological and aesthetic refinements introduced by the Bhāgavata-purāṇa and subsequently by Rupa Goswami. This does not mean that from our vantage point in the 21st century, the same aesthetic will apply. Indeed, while discussing criticisms of the erotic character of SKK, in the introduction to her translation of SKK, Klaiman says,
...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.
While recognizing that there is some merit in this statement, we will try to give a different idea of why the SKK lost its appeal and was superseded, in the context of what has already been said.

The Dāna-khaṇḍa in SKK

SKK has 14 chapters, of which the Dāna-khaṇḍa is the third. Chandidas begins his story by summarily describing the puranic rationale for Krishna’s appearance in the Janma-khaṇḍa, based on the accounts of Hari-vaàśa and Viṣṇu-purāṇa, but not in the Bhāgavata. Indeed, since this particular myth demonstrates the primacy of Viṣṇu-Nārāyaṇa over Krishna and Balaram, it is not held in great affection by the acharyas of the Gaudiya school.

Chandidas ends the chapter by introducing Radha as Lakshmi, Krishna’s eternal consort, and also the character known as Barai, or “Granny,” the only other active individual role in the drama.

In the second chapter, Krishna sees Radha and tries to win her over with a gift of pan (tāmbūla), which he asks the complicit Barai to bring her. Barai readily accepts the challenge, saying Radha is no pious and chaste Sita. But Radha surprises her by having nothing of it, crushing the tambula underfoot. When Barai continues to plead Krishna’s cause, citing his divinity, Radha is shocked:
I have a husband at home, who is fine in all respects,
and physically good looking besides.
What business do I have starting up a love affair
with a cowkeeper from the house of Nanda?
Here, Barai comes out with a defense of Krishna's divinity:
If one remembers this god, all sins are forgiven;
just seeing him you get liberation.
If you make your love for this god increase
then you will attain the abode of Vishnu.
Radha is scandalized. How can anyone attain the abode of Vishnu by having an affair with a paramour? She not only refuses the gift haughtily, pleading her married state and her age—she is only eleven years old—but slaps Barai on the cheek in adamant refusal.

At this point we encounter the first incident that jars the sensibilities of readers who have come through the Gaudiya tradition: Barai’s reaction. Though “Granny” has been entrusted with Radha’s care, she here suddenly becomes vindictive. She returns to Krishna and tells him how his gift and she herself have been slighted, and Krishna agrees that Radha has wronged a messenger, like Ravana insulted Hanuman. The two of them then plot revenge: Radha’s seduction is to be an act of spite, not of love. It is here that Barai and Krishna plan the taking of the toll. This sets the stage for the rest of the entire SKK: to the very end Krishna never forgets the insult of Radha’s refusal of his love offering.

This brings us to the third chapter, Dāna-khaṇḍa. This is by far the longest chapter in the book, which is an immediate indication of the popularity of this theme. Of the 415 extant songs in the SKK, about a quarter are in the Dāna-khaṇḍa section. Moreover, since the theme of the refused gift and the subsequent blocking of Radha’s passage and extorting sexual favors are mentioned several times over the rest of SKK, one is led to surmise that this specific lila is somehow the centerpiece of the book as a whole.

The basic premise of the Dāna-khaṇḍa is that as Barai is taking Radha and her friends to the Mathura market to sell their wares, Krishna stops them and demands the payment of exorbitant fees for the right to continue on their way.

Throughout, however, Krishna lets Radha know that what he really wants is to be intimate with her. He makes professions of undying love, glorifies Radha’s beauty, ascribes prohibitively high values for her taxable wares, and then does the same for each of her bodily features and tries to tax them, and even threatens her with violence if she does not succumb. Ultimately, the price he really wants to extract is her acquiescence to his sexual overtures.

In the course of this, Krishna bullies her by pulling on her clothes, breaking her earthenware yogurt pots, eating the milk products meant for sale. He repeatedly tries to browbeat Radha into accepting him as Gaya’s Gadadhar, Prayag’s Madhava, Narayan, Madhusudana, Deva Vanamali, and other names. He mentions having appeared as several avatars, but most of all he tries to impress upon Radha that they were husband and wife in a previous life and that she is his, and not the wife of some cowherd named Aihan.

Their exchange can be typically characterized as follows:
Krishna: “If you give in to me, you will get divine blessings. If not, well, watch out.”

Radha: “What blessings can you give? You are nothing but an uneducated cowherd, and it shows. I know you as Nandanandan, my nephew, actually. You want to have sex with someone else’s wife and so you are here playing at being a toll-collector. If anyone is in trouble, it is you. Wait till Kamsa finds out. Wait till Aihan, my heroic and pious husband, finds out. You are going to get a good drubbing.”

Krishna: “You are Padma and I am Padmanabha. In a previous life we were married.”

Radha: “What nonsense. Anyway, even if we were married in a previous life, what does that have to do with the present? We are not married in this life, and it would be a great scandal if anything happened between us.”
Krishna brings up the claim that Aihan is impotent, though Radha defends his good qualities in numerous places, including his heroism. Every time she tries to thwart Krishna’s advances by threatening repercussions from Aihan or even Kamsa, however, Krishna simply brushes it off. "I dealt with Putana when I was a baby, I lifted Govardhan. In a previous life I did Ravana in, so do you think I will have any problem dealing with your Aihan or even Kamsa?"

In her repartees, it is Radha’s refusal to accept Krishna’s claims of divine glory (aiśvarya) and her debunking of them that are the principal source of amusement. Indeed, these claims appear to be nothing more than an attempt by Krishna to abuse his power: He is not just representing the king and taking advantage of his position to coerce an innocent woman into granting him sexual favors, but is using a claim of divine status to do the same thing.

We can easily see how those who had adopted the Bhāgavata viewpoint would feel uncomfortable at this depiction of Krishna’s aggressive approach. Certainly from our cultural vantage point, we would call it sexual harassment, or even child abuse, since Radha several times states that she is not of an age where she can either give or enjoy sexual pleasure.

The dāna-līlā is clearly meant to be humorous. I expect that such kinds of abuse of power would have been a fact of life for many women in the audience, especially those from lower castes faced with precisely this kind of situation [and which is likely a reality even today]. Perhaps Chandidas is making a caricature of this kind of misbehavior, in an almost Tartuffian way. Since the performance was meant to amuse, and both men and women would have to be entertained, a certain suspension of disbelief would have been necessary. But when Radha does give in in the end, it is only because she has been forced to do so and not because she believes that Krishna is God, nor that her relationship is an eternal reality. And it certainly is not because of a sentiment of true love.

On the other hand, we have to assume that, in a country where the Gita Govinda would have been firmly established culturally, the audience would have been in on it, and have accepted on faith that this is indeed God’s lila. “I have appeared,” Kahnai says, “only to enjoy with you.”

An awareness of the distinction of human and divine would legitimize the behavior only in Krishna’s case, as indeed is found in the verses with which the Bhāgavata concludes the Rāsa-lila. But these warnings to follow the devotee’s attitude instead of Krishna’s are an attempt to redirect what would be the normal psychological tendency of an audience. Women would have identified with Radha, there is little doubt of that. Would men have identified with Krishna? And if so, to what extent? Would they have been sympathetic? Would they have recognized his behavior as the childish infatuation of a randy rustic adolescent, and hardly heroic, what to speak of being admired or emulated?

When Radha finally gives in, Chandidas gives a description of their lovemaking that takes only one verse--saṅkṣipta-sambhoga indeed. It is followed, however, by a bit of strange behavior from Krishna. Instead of treating Radha with affectionate adoration, or indeed any kind of romanticism, he deprives her of all her jewelry and sends her home without it. The reason for this is that he does not trust her to submit to him again, and the jewelry serves as leverage for further intimidation.

I remember the first time I read SKK and how this apparent callousness here and in subsequent descriptions was the most strikingly disturbing feature of Chandidas’s Krishna. If Krishna is God in Chandidas’s poem, then the paradoxes of his behavior, such as those found in the Mahābhārata and elsewhere, and which are indeed highlighted wherever Krishna’s character is depicted, have been expressed to such an extreme that there is practically nothing redeeming about him.

Later, almost at the end of the book in the 11th chapter, Bāṇa-khaṇḍa, even when Radha has become much more favorable to Krishna, though without entirely giving herself up to him, Krishna himself seems strangely unchanged and heartless, or at the very least, childish and immature. And when Radha makes the unforgivable transgression of complaining to Krishna’s mother about his behavior, and he decides to take advantage of his power to shoot Cupid’s arrows at her, it still does not seem like an act of love, but rather one of punishment.
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.
And Barai in that chapter also eggs Krishna on saying, “Take her life. She is not afraid of you. Let her pray for mercy.” When Radha is pierced by the arrows and lies unconscious on the ground, Barai has a change of heart. She pleads that she was only joking, while Krishna is overwhelmed with remorse.

But only temporarily, it would seem, for in the final chapter of SKK, which unfortunately is incomplete, Krishna’s abandonment of Radha is not at all softened by any regret, even in the face of poignant descriptions of Radha’s pains of separation, described by Chandidas at the height of his poetic art. His resentment of the original insult is still an open wound, and he shows no mercy at her plight.

It is hopefully clear, then, from even this brief summary, why there is such ambivalence about SKK amongst modern Bengali critics, what to speak of followers of the Gaudiya Vaishnava religion. Shankariprasad Bosu writes in Madhya-yuger kobi o kābya: "Whatever is good about 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 Śrī Kṛṣṇa-kīrtana is a result of this depiction of Krishna’s personality."

This contrast between the purity of Radha’s love and the fickleness of the object of her love are thematically consistent with the Radha-Krishna cycle, even that of the Bhāgavatam, where it is imbued with a theological significance. But for Chandidas, the performance of his poem is not presented as a devotional act. And the secular character of the poem results in the “overhumanization” of Krishna’s character to the point that it leads to a desecration of the ideal of pure love itself. It is not the eroticism or the pārakīya nature of the love that is being objected to, but the inadequate expression of that love.

On the other hand, it might justifiably said that the moral of the story is a confirmation of the fundamental social view of marriage. “Don’t fall in love, especially not with a paramour if you are married. It only results in tragedy.”

Gopāla-vijaya by Daivakīnandana Singh

Space here does not permit us to take a thorough look at a book, a maṅgala-kāvya called Gopāla-vijaya, written by Daivakinandan Kavishekhara. It is interesting for several reasons, one being that it represents something of a transition from SKK to DKK, not only in the telling of the dāna-keli, but in its general depiction of Krishna. Historically, it is of some significance that he appears to come from the same village as Rupa.

Daivakinandan’s dāna-līlā is much shorter than Chandidas’s and much less repetitious. It has only seven chapters. Daivakinandan’s heart clearly lies in the stories that Chandidas tells, but he tells them differently. Though writing in the same vernacular as Chandidas, he is already on the way to “classicizing” them according to the Bhāgavata theology and the concept of good taste as found in classical Sanskrit literature.

Barai, Radha and Krishna are all depicted differently. The key element, I think, is that Radha is described as having an attraction for Krishna even before the dāna incident takes place. The dāna-līlā is presented in more classical pūrva-rāga (love in the phase of preliminary attraction) fashion. In particular, the woman’s attraction is described prior to the man’s. This makes sense from a moral point of view also, since the man traditionally holds coercive power—as shown above in relation to the SKK account.

Krishna’s attractiveness, barely mentioned at all in the SKK, is here, as in the Bhāgavata, of primary importance.
One gopi said, "What God created the family, for which reason I am deprived of this jewel (Krishna) who is present before me?" Another said, "Whatever people say, I don't care. I will not abandon Krishna's feet, even by mistake." Another said, "In this lifetime, I will perform austerities so that I can become his ankle bells in my next life, and remain holding his feet all the time." (GV 29.32-34)
Krishna and Radha’s interactions are more clearly flirtatious (Bengali dhāmāli) and do not have the cloud of dangerous aggression looming over them. Flirtation is play, and without the underlying element of intimidation. Any undercurrents of anger and resentment as motivations in the relationship are left out. Radha and Krishna have become idealized and iconic, without losing their playful nature.


The above summary of GK applies also to Rupa Goswami’s Dāna-keli-kaumudī (DKK). DKK is a bhānikā (one-act play) written in Sanskrit, and Rupa has added an original, subtle and sophisticated theological framework to what is fundamentally the same theme.

This framework is apparent in the nandī of two invocatory verses. Both these verses are subsequently quoted in Caitanya-caritāmṛta, which gives us a clue as to their significance and help us determine how Rupa Goswami’s approach to the dāna-līlā differs from that of his predecessors. Some of these differences will appear completely predictable, others not.

Both nāndī verses share one common feature. They differ from the usual kinds of invocatory prayers in that no particular god is being addressed, invoked or supplicated.

In the first verse, Rupa Goswami adapts a longstanding description of the dramaticians by describing the kila-kiñcita bhāva of Radha, the flurry of conflicting emotions that overwhelms Radha when she is unexpectedly stopped on the road by the one she secretly loves.
Radha’s eyes are a kila-kiñcita bouquet of flowers:
blossoming with a repressed smile,
teardrops clinging like dew to the base of her eyelash petals;
slightly reddening around the edges;
overflowing with the sap of amusement,
or contracting like buds.

May these eyes of Radha,
made more beautiful by their flashing sweet pupils
as she is blocked on the path by Madhava,
bring you all good fortune.
There is much to be said about this verse, but the principal observation is that Radha, the principal seat of love, is being given primacy; the second is that it is the momentary expression of that love that is made the source of the benediction.

Vaishnavas see this prema as the supreme goal or the “fifth goal” of human life. What we should note here from the very beginning is that this benediction is not coming from Krishna, nor even specifically from Radha as a powerful deity, but from her love, which is manifested in the form of this flurry of conflicting emotions.

In terms of foreshadowing the content of the play itself (vastu-nirdeśa), this verse shows that the point of the Dana-keli-kaumudi is not as much the lila itself, the blocking of Radha on the path to Govinda Kund, but the divine moment, the snapshot of Radha experiencing this particular moment of blissful turmoil.

This is an immediate sign that the DKK is distinct from Chandidas's SKK. Of course we don't have the SKK's introductory or concluding verses, but we would expect some recurring benedictory themes emanating to the audience, or even blessings at the beginning or end of the chapters. That is simply not there. For Chandidas, as already stated, this hearing of Krishna’s lila is not a religious act. For Daivakinandan, it is. He concludes each chapter with some blessing that will come from hearing the lila, but the source of such blessings is still Narayan, the supreme divinity, to whom he offers his prayers and obeisances.

It would appear then, both from this verse and the next, that we get verification of Donna Wulff's statement that “the absolute for Rupa is not a metaphysical principle, but an emotion... Radha, as love embodied, is thus the supreme avenue of religious realization.”

This is the second verse, which describes Radha’s anurāga.
Though all-pervading, it increases at every moment;
There is nothing as serious, yet it is always lighthearted;
Full of twists and turns, yet always straight and pure:
Ever glorious is Radha’s love for the enemy of Mura.
Here, as in the first verse, where Radha’s anubhāva known as kila-kiñcita was singled out as the source of blessings, here the sthāyī bhāva of anurāga has been singled out for a declaration of victory. Anurāga is one particular base point in a hierarchy of loving attitudes, defined by Rupa himself in the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi as follows:
When rāga becomes ever newer and makes the beloved seem always newer and newer, though he is constantly being experienced, it is called anurāga. (UN 14.126)
The word jayati marks the second verse as a namaskāra type of nāndī, while also showing signs of the vastu-nirdeśa. But whereas the first verse specified a particular moment of the play and its general premise, the second describes the underlying type of love that is displayed by Radha in this play. It should be noted that anurāga is particularly relevant to the pūrva-rāga, the locus par excellence of romantic love.

There is, moreover, a further playful hint at the paradoxical character of Radha and Krishna’s sacred love. Just as the kila-kiñcita manifestation was the result of contradictory emotions clashing, the state of love known as anurāga is characterized by inner contradictions.

This verse plays a significant role in Krishnadas Kaviraj’s explanation of Chaitanya’s incarnation in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta. He there says that just as the Supreme Truth is the place where all contradictions are resolved, so too is Radha’s love is the place where numerous paradoxes are resolved. This is indeed a significant element in the Vedantic definition of the Divinity, the embodiment of all paradox. In the synthetic philosophy of the Gaudiyas, the multiplicity of God’s creation, a necessity for the sake of experiencing love, is at the same time paradoxical, since it appears to disrupt his essential unity. The contrast between the plurality of the creation and this ideal, underlying state of primal and unbreakable unity, is the paradox of play. Both are simultaneously necessary for the creation of rasa.

As Krishna is all-pervading (vibhu), so is Radha’s love. The word vibhu is a term that is generally used only in reference to the Supreme Absolute Truth, for by definition that alone can be all-pervading. But since Radha is Krishna’s energy, she is not different from him. Wherever she is, there is Krishna. Wherever Krishna is, there she is. Radha is not different from Love or from her love for Krishna. Though this verse does not explicitly refer to this ontological unity of Radha and Krishna, this underlying foundation of the acintya-bhedābheda doctrine should be seen as informing the entire concept of the paradox of play or lila.

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

The prastāvanā portion of the play also makes the above theological backdrop clear.
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.
In the play itself, when Radha and Krishna see each other, they both describe the beauty of their respective love object and their feelings in reaction to it. Here again, 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, still verses about Radha’s feelings far outnumber those describing Krishna’s.

Thus, by the time it comes to the contentious arguments between Radha and Krishna, we are far better prepared than we were in either Chandidas or Daivakinandan, where the simple identification of Krishna is as an avatar. The reason is that we already know fully how deeply Radha loves Krishna. There is a mutuality of love. Furthermore, there is an awareness in the audience that though technically this is a pūrva-rāga circumstance, in fact, Radha and Krishna are self-consciously eternal partners. In human terms, this could be seen as the sense of destiny that all lovers feel.

If we can remark a development in the three versions of the Radha-Krishna story we are looking at, SKK, GV and DKK, we can observe a progression in Radha’s complicity with Krishna. For Chandidas, Radha is genuinely unwilling to surrender to Krishna at first and she only warms to him gradually. In DKK, what is stressed is Radha’s love for Krishna as an eternal given.


What I have tried to show is that whereas Chandidas in his SKK has concentrated on telling an entertaining story based on Krishna’s dubious character, he has at the same time clearly drawn a picture of male mistreatment of women, both in Krishna’s aggressive courtship of Radha and later abandonment. Daivakinandan has taken steps to purify this image, but Rupa Goswami has most determinedly attempted to completely recuperate Krishna’s character in DKK. This, of course, is not independent of his other, theoretical works like Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu and Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi, and DKK ultimately has to be understood in reference to those works.

Nevertheless, by framing the story of the dāna-līlā as a much more innocent flirtatiousness in the context of sacred symbols, Rupa Goswami has, in a sense, legitimized the process of falling in love as a valid and even sacramental act. He thus gives it a dimension that is not raw and untamed, and we could say, illustrative of kāma, as that found in Chandidas. As such, he has not only recuperated the image of Krishna as a divine person, but also that of erotic love as a sacred act between human beings.

1 comment:

Jagat said...

Just wanted to comment as a footnote, that in a recent courtcase in the Indian Supreme Court, the Tamil actress Khusboo, who had been pursued on 22 counts for have spoken in favor of premarital sex and cohabitation, had all charges dismissed.

Apparently the judge mentioned Radha and Krishna in relationship to this question. "Even Lord Krishna and Radha lived together according to mythology," the judges pointed out, adding no law prohibited either premarital sex or live-in relationships. "Please tell us what is the offence and under which section? Living together is (part of) right to life (given in the Constitution)," the bench said. The other two judges on the bench were Deepak Verma and B.S. Chauhan.

There are too many links to give everything, but here is an interesting response to the citation of Radha and Krishna as an example of "cohabitation."