Piriti and Chandidas's humanism

I had a break yesterday and plunged back into Chandidas. I was reading Biman Bihari Majumdar's edition, which has much to say for it, as he has gone deeply into the Chandidas mystery, sorting out which Chandidas is which.

There are so many Chandidasas -- minimum four, probably five or more. Majumdar divides his book into four sections: definitely Chandidas, not so sure, definitely Baru Chandidas and Dina Chandidas, and ones that though ascribed or attributed are definitely not the original Chandidas. Many of the latter are signed Dvija Chandidas, who is definitely post-Chaitanya, though he shows no direct knowledge of or devotion to Chaitanya.

The rāgātmikā-padas of the Sahajiya Chandidas are left out entirely, since everyone seems to agree that they are post-Chaitanya. Majumdar also thinks Baru Chandidas is at least contemporary with Chaitanya, which I don't agree with.

Basically all the students of early Bengali literature pick over each pada and choose which author it belongs to. Majumdar is pretty good and I agree with most of his selection, but the problems are too many: the fluidity of the song tradition in Bengal is the main one. There were no printing presses, no copyright laws. A lot of it was oral transmission. The telephone game was in full throttle. Singers updated language and ideas as they incorporated songs into their own performances.

What is immediately noticeable about the 120 padas Majumdar has chosen as being genuinely the genuine original Chandidas that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu listened to in the Gambhira, is the frequent use of the word piriti (পিরিতি), which clearly is one of the signposts of a Chandidas song, and even his imitators follow by speaking of it.

Something had possessed me to try to find a song related to piriti that I had a faint memory of, but I started at the beginning and read song by song through the section of those Majumdar considers genuine.

Though there is some variety in the nature of the songs, it soon becomes apparent that there is one overriding theme: Radha's love is not bringing her much happiness. Most significant of her troubles is that it is bringing public opprobrium and much harassment from her in-laws, especially the sister-in-law (nanadi). Sometimes Radha is defiant, sometimes desperate, but she is always alone without anyone with whom she can share her feelings.

She rushed into love on the basis of an attraction she barely understood, convinced it would bring her happiness, but it seems that the opposite has happened. The nectar has turned to poison that burns her entire body. Love is a disease (piriti beyādhi), her only prayer is to be rid of it.

Radha's pessimism about love is unadulterated. Krishna himself plays only a small role; his principal action appears to be inaction or absence. Only one or two verses mention his flute or physical beauty. Though most songs belong to the pūrva-rāga, a few verses mention Radha's disappointment with Krishna's behavior later, even after they have met. Krishna as a person is barely present. The feeling of love itself seems to be dominant. The emphasis is entirely on Radha's mood.

As even this short description shows, the theme of love as suffering carries familiar elements and themes that are reflected in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, especially Chapter 2 of the Madhya-līlā.

sonāra gāgari yena biṣa bhari dudhera purila mukha
vicāra kariẏā ye jana nā khāya pariṇāme pāẏa dukha 
As though she had filled her mouth with milk that contained poison from a golden jug. One who thinks too much about it and refuses such a drink suffers even more. (62)
kānura pirīti baḍi biṣam chāḍile nā yāẏa chāḍā
āmi se chāḍile piriti nā chāḍe e dukha haẏeche bāḍā 
Love for Krishna increased to such intensity that even wanting to give it up, she couldn't. And her misery only increased to know when thinking, "I am giving up love, but Love won't go away." (112)
bahuta pirīti bahuta dukha alapa pirīti bhāla
hāsite hāsite piriti kariẏā kāndite janama gela
A lot of love means a lot of pain. It is better to love less. I laughed and laughed when I fell in love, but now my life has been wasted in tears.
parera mana dukha pare nāhi jāne śuni kare upahāsa
āpanā baliẏā piriti kariluṁ jāti kula haila nāśa
One person cannot know the misery in another's mind. And if they hear about it, they only joke and make fun [of the one in love]. I fell in love thinking that it was natural to me, and so brought destruction to my [connections to] family and clan.
It is only in the bhaṇitā verse at the end of each song, when the author himself speaks to Radha directly that there is some relief and hope given for love's ultimate beneficence.

kahe caṇḍīdāse biraha dekhiẏā śuna go rājāra jhi
rādhā rādhā bali baṁśīṭī bājāya, bicchede ṭhekyācha ki
Chandidas says, seeing Radha's distress in separation, "O listen to me, princess! Krishna is playing his flute, which sings 'Radha Radha,' why are you fixated on separation?"
caṇḍīdāsa kahe manera ānande śuna adabhuta kathā
se bandhu nāgara tomā chāḍā nahe antare nā bhāba bethā
With a joyful heart, Chandidas says, "Listen to this amazing matter! Your lover and friend is never far from you. So don't be unhappy inside." (104)
nagara mājhāre loka bole more
ai āila śyāmera rāi
caṇḍīdāsa bole kāliẏā ratana
tomāri galāra hāra
When they see me coming, people in the town mock me saying, "Here comes Krishna's girlfriend Radha." Chandidas says, "Krishna is a a black jewel, an emerald, that hangs like a pendant around your neck."
caṇḍīdāsa kahe śuna binodini, nāme nā bhābiha āna
tumi se śyāmera sarabasa dhana, śyāma se tomāra prāṇa
Chandidas says, "Listen, my beauty, don't go making any mistake. You are Shyam's life and soul, his treasure, just as he is your life."
kichu kichu sudhā biṣa guna ādhā nehā cirañjīvī kaila
Meanwhile, in Vrindavan, Hit Harivansh portrays Radha in a much different light:

देखौ मा अबला के बल रासि ।
अति गज मत्त निरंकुस मोंहन, निरखि बंधे लट पासि ॥
अबहीं पंगु मन की गति, बिनु उद्दिम अनियास ।
तबकी कहा कहौं जब प्रिय प्रति, चाहति भृकुटि बिलास ॥
कच संजमन ब्याज भुज दरसति, मुसकनि वदन विकास ।
हा हरिवंश अनीति रीति हित, कत डारति तन त्रास ॥

dekhau māī abalā ke bala rāsi
ati gaja matta niraṁkusa moṁhana, nirakhi baṁdhe laṭa pāsi
abahīṁ paṁgu mana kī gati, binu uddima aniyāsa
tabakī kahā kahauṁ jaba priya prati, cāhati bhṛkuṭi bilāsa
kaca saṁjamana byāja bhuja darasati, musakani vadana vikāsa
hā harivaṁśa anīti rīti hita, kata ḍārati tana trāsa
Oh look, Ma, at the heaps of power this “powerless” girl possesses! Mohan Krishna is a drunken elephant that no one can control, but she ties him down with one braid of her hair.

Tied down, his mind’s movements have become like those of a cripple—and she has not even made any conscious effort of any kind! So tell me what will happen if she decides to look at him, to give him one of her playful glances?

Pretending to fix her hair, she lifts her arms, with a knowing smile spreading across her face. Harivamsa says, “It’s not fair! This love business does not follow the rules. You should not beat a man when he is down.”
The contrast of this Radha to the Radha of Chandidas is striking. None of Chandidas' padas (nor those of Badu Chandidas as far as I know) paint her as the svādhīna-bhartṛkā like the Sanskrit poets, including (especially) Jayadeva.

It is my feeling, however, that Radha is a "complex" archetype and tying her down to one poet's mood would be foolish. Radha is an open-ended complex of mahābhāva. She is our ārādhya devatā.

Let me put that another way: Like the blind men and the elephant, poets and devotees are projecting their ideal of love on Radha, and it is their personality and mood that gives their Radha form. As the perception of Radha's multifarious dimensions increases with the input of those who meditate on her, the concept of love itself is expanded and purified.

Some persons may think Radha is irrelevant to the understanding of love, or outdated, or in need of serious reform, etc. A devotee understands that Radha cannot be understood without the culture of bhakti/love. Love is for those who are devotees of Love.

Nevertheless, our "original" Chandidas does not give up his adoration of love (piriti) itself. The song I was looking for was probably this one:

পিরিতির্ রীতি, শুন রসৱতি, পিরিতি করহ সার
পিরিতি সাগরে, যেবা না সাংতারে, কি ছার জীৱন তার ।
পিরিতি নগরে, বসতি করহ, থাকহ পিরিতি মাঝে
সকল তেজিয়া, পিরিতে মজহ, কি করে লোকের লাজে ।
পিরিতি বলিয়া, নিশান তুলিয়া, দাও না ভুবন ভরি
পিরিতি রসের, কলঙ্ক পাইলে, বিলম্ব নাহিক করি ।
কহে চণ্ডীদাসে, বাশুলী আদেশে, পিরিতি সুগম ভাল
সুজন জানিয়া, পিরিতি করহ, পিরিতে গোঙাও কাল ।

piritir rīti, śuna rasavati, piriti karaha sāra
piriti sāgare, yebā nā sāṁtāre, ki chāra jīvana tāra |
piriti nagare, basati karaha, thākaha piriti mājhe
sakala tejiẏā, pirite majaha, ki kare lokera lāje |
piriti baliẏā, niśāna tuliẏā, dāo nā bhubana bhari
piriti rasera, kalaṅka pāile, bilamba nāhika kari |
kahe caṇḍīdāse, bāśulī ādeśe, piriti sugama bhāla
sujana jāniẏā, piriti karaha, pirite goṅāo kāla |
Listen, my dear, to the ways of love.
Make love the essence [of your life].
How insignificant is the life of one
who does not swim in the ocean of love!
Take up residence in the city of love,
remain in the midst of love.
Give up everything and immerse yourself in love;
don't hold back for fear of shame or public repudiation!
Proclaim love and raise the banner of love!
Fill the world with love!
If you have been stained by the taste of love,
there will be no delay.
Chandidas says, on the order of Basuli,
"Love is very easy to understand:
Know Krishna to be a good and virtuous man
and so love him. Live your life in love."
(Chandidaser Padavali, B.B. Majumdar, song 120)
This song has the signature appeal to Basuli that is everywhere in Badu Chandidas's Sri Krishna Kirtan, even though Majumdar takes it as being of the "original" Chandidas. I think that this song gives the right understanding. It is not conditional on finding the right partner, but assumes that the right partner has already been found. The word sujana ("good and virtuous man") comes up in other songs where Chandi Das assuages Radha's doubts about Krishna's character or glorifies the benefits of loving him. This is called bhāva sādhanā. It is the essence of rāgānugā sādhanā. Its locus is in the heart and not the head or the senses.

sakala upara, piriti sādhana, ye jana sādhite pāre
kahe caṇḍīdāsa sei se durlabha e tina bhubana sāre
Above all else is the sādhanā of love. The person who is able to cultivate this practice, says Chandidas, is so hard to find anywhere in the three worlds. (115)
Is this Chandidas a Sahajiya? That probably depends on where you draw the line on Sahajiyaism. If you are including "sexo-yogic" practices, then there is nothing, not even hinted at, in the verses Majumdar has selected. If a kind of humanism is what you mean, then the entire picture of Radha provided by them is very human, and ties the culture of human love into the culture of divine love. This humanism is definitely an aṅga of all Sahajiya sects, including (or especially) the Bauls, and even a subtle undercurrent in popular (as opposed to strictly orthodox and renounced) Vaishnavism.

We personally favor this humanistic approach. I was a little surprised to see that the line "Human existence is highest above all, there is nothing superior to it" (sarvopari manuṣya sattva tār upari nāi) that is usually [and popularly] attributed to the original Chandidas is nowhere to be found in Majumdar's collection. That line is rarely quoted with the rest of the song (don't know where I would find it either), but is often pointed to as the beginning of a humanism that is said to have influenced the Chaitanya Vaishnava view of Krishna (kṛṣṇera yateka khelā sarvottama nara-līlā).

Jai Radhe!


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