Surata Sukha from Mahāvāṇī
In November, I got a nice present from Brahmachari Brajvihari Sharan at Golok Dham Ashram in Delhi: An annotated copy of Harivyas Devacharya’s Mahāvāṇī (ca. 1573 CE).
Of late, there has been a rather unappetizing scandal surrounding the sex tapes of a popular Bhagavata speaker, which raises doubts again about the appropriateness of discussing or repeating Radha and Krishna’s “confidential”, i.e., erotic, pastimes.
It seems that such worries are well-founded when such prurient interest in what appear to be mundane sexuality is dressed up in Vrindavan garb and then marketed for profit to those who have little or no appreciation for Braja rasa in its purest and most transcendental form.
Nevertheless, we must, against all criticism, reaffirm our own faith in madhura-rasa, the erotic mood of love, as the king of the “mellows” and in Radha and Krishna, the divine embodiment of that mood, in two moieties as Rasarāj and Mahābhāva.
Vrindavan is unique in that it is the land of the Rasika-sampradayas, all of whom pledge allegiance to shringara rasa, and there is no use in avoiding that truth. All the other rasas are subservient to madhura, just as the four purusharthas are all subservient to prema, the fifth and unsurpassable goal of human life, love. Each of these sampradayas have their own way of relishing these pastimes and answering the questions about desire, eroticism, love and transcendence.
So to honor this commitment to the purest form of divine love, which in reality only exists in the Yugala Sarkar, Shri Shri Radha Madana Mohan, we offer the Vrindavan Today community a taste of Ratanlal Beriwala’s introduction to the Surata Sukh chapter of Mahāvāṇī.
Mahāvāṇī is one of the great texts of Braj Vaishnavism. It is a pure rasika work and each word of the text exudes the sweetness of shringara rasa. It has five chapters: sevā-sukha, utsāha-sukha, surata-sukha, sahaja-sukha and siddhānta-sukha, all of which are devoted to one aspect or another of the madhura pastimes. Surata-sukha, as the discussion that follows explains, is about the Divine Couple’s erotic dalliances.
The commentator Ratanlal Beriwala (1889-1971) has drawn heavily on the works of the Gaudiyas, and I believe that this is much a result of the ishtagoshtis which took place in Dauji Bagicha in the early and middle years of the last century. The society of scholars and bhajananandis who surrounded Ramakrishna Pandit Baba came from all the Vrindavan rasika sampradayas, one of the most significant of whom was Priya Sharan Baba. This resulted in debate and a new sharing of ideas, as well as friendship between the different schools.
Another big influence on Ratanlal's commentary is the exceptional Nimbarki devotee-scholar Bhagirath Jha Mahodaya, whose many Sanskrit works on Nimbarka siddhānta include Yugala-rasa-tattva-samīkṣā. Jha had wide knowledge of the works of the Gaudiya school and though he debated many of the ideas, particularly those related to Parakīyā-svakīyā and the nitya-vihāra, he made tremendous contributions to the storehouse of understanding.
Of course, differences between the different Vaishnava schools, but we should remember that wherever such debates exist, it implies the necessity for a deeper level of understanding.
What is meant by surata-sukha? The word surata according to the dictionary means “(sporting , playful) amorous or sexual pleasure or intercourse , coition.” It is mentioned by Vātsyāyana in the Kāma-sūtra in connection with a number of other synonyms: samprayoga, rata, rahaḥ-śāyanaṁ, mohanaṁ (samprayogo rataṁ rahaḥ-śāyanaṁ mohanaṁ surata-paryāyāḥ, KS 2.1.32) .
Sukham or happiness is similarly defined according to synonyms by Jiva Goswami in Priti-sandarbha (61). mut-pramoda-harṣānandādi-paryāyayaḥ sukham ucyate. In the same place he also gives a more standard definition: ullāsātmako jñāna-viśeṣaḥ sukhaṁ, “Happiness is a particular state of consciousness characterized by gaiety, ebullience, jubilation, exuberance, exhilaration, exultation, or exaltation (ullāsa).
So the term surata-sukham can simply be reduced to “the exhilarating joy that the Divine Couple feels in their erotic love play.”
The author of Mahāvāṇī states the following at the end of this chapter:
nema prema teṁ pare jo ati durlabha adhikāradohā—
rījhi deta jihiṁ yugala jū sumarita surata vihāra ||1||
śrī śyāmā śrī śyāma ko yaha sukha surata vihāra |kuṇḍaliyā—
basahu sadā hiya sadana meṁ sakala sāra ko sāra ||2||
mahā mṛdula mahā madhura madhu mahā rahasi rasa rāsi |
mahā sukhada sarvesa ko mahā manubhava bhāsi ||3||
Whatever qualified individual dwells on the poems on Priya-Pritam’s delight in erotic love dalliance in this chapter receives their blessings, for they bestow upon him the taste for desire (kāma), which is beyond both sadhana or vidhi bhakti, as well as beyond prema bhakti.
Doha: May Shyama-Shyam’s delight in erotic dalliances, the essence of all essences, always reside in the abode of my heart.
Kundaliya: So soft, so sweet and relishable, that secret ocean of delight which brings the highest happiness to the Lord of All, which is the explanation of the great manifestation of the God of Love. (Surata-sukha, 100-101)
Nearly all Vaishnava sampradayas accept the idea that prema is the fifth aim of life or puruṣārtha, greater than dharma, artha, kama or moksha, and they all make this their sadhya, or goal of spiritual practices. The author of Mahāvāṇī uses the word nema, prema or prema-lakṣaṇā bhakti to designate the goal of sādhana-bhakti, and yet he says that there is something within prema-bhakti that is an even higher goal to achieve.
This too has been repeated in several places in the Mahāvāṇī,e.g. :
[Obviously, a proper understanding of the three terms niyama bhakti, prema-bhakti and parā bhakti are needed. Ratanlal Beriwala has given extensive explanations in other parts of the text, based on primarily Gaudiya sources like Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu and Bhakti-sandarbha. For parā bhakti, he points especially to the vikrīḍitaṁ verse which ends the Rasa Panchadhyaya.nigama nigama āgama agama lahi na sakeṁ guna granthaand
nigama ko nigama aru agama āgama kaunāhi samarattha guna ganana meṁ grantha
Books are unable to seize [Radha and Krishna’s] qualities [in the Nitya Vihara]. The Veda cannot go there, they cannot be found in the Agamas. … Books are unable to count the qualities, as stated by the Shrutis themselves: yac chrutayas tvayi hi phalanty atan-nirasanena bhavan-nidhanāḥ (BhP 10.87.41).
Another quote, also from Siddhānta-sukha:nema prema teṁ para balyau parama parā kau pantharahi gayo māraga ure nema aura prema kopara calyo parā kau parama para pantha
So if this supreme truth is not attainable through the Vedas, Puranas and other shastras, then how can it be attained? In order to counter this doubt, the author writes: I say that beyond nema (niyama) and prema lies (parā bhakti) the path to the highest truth. There is the path which lies beyond those of nema and prema. I walk on the topmost path to the Supreme, that of parā bhakti. (Siddhānta-sukha 11)
Now, to specify exactly what he means by a state of love that is beyond nema and prema, Harivyasa Devacharyaji says, “May this happiness of Shri Shri Shyāmā Shyāma’s erotic dalliances, the essence of all essences, remain fixed forever in my heart.”nema prema teṁ pare pantha jahāṁ,turata pahuṁci hai ali akalesa
There where lies the path of parā bhakti, beyond both nema and prema, there the sakhi arrives quickly without any afflictions. (Siddhānta-sukha 13)
Having stated that Radha and Krishna’s erotic dalliances are the essence of all essences, Harivyasaji goes on to say, " So soft, so sweet and relishable, that secret ocean of delight which brings the highest happiness to the Lord of All, which is the explanation of the great manifestation of the God of Love."
[The word bhāsi is explained here as meaning bhāṣya, an exposition or explanatory work. Those who are rasikas or connoisseurs of the rasas, says that of all the rasas, dāsya, sakhya, vatsalya and madhura, the madhura rasa is the topmost. The author of Mahāvāṇī here says that the ultimate state of the madhura-rasa, which is described here as "so soft, so sweet and relishable, a secret ocean of delight," gives the Divine Couple, the best of the rasikas the greatest pleasure, mahā-sukha, is this erotic dalliance, known as kāma-keli or surata-sukha. This is the highest stage of prema. It is also called by the various synonyms sambhoga, kāma-keli, maithuna, saṁyoga, samprayoga, rati-bandha, kāma-krīḍā, etc.
The Bhagavata says sākṣāt manmatha-manmatha, Krishna is Madan Mohan, the one who bewilders the mind of even Cupid. That mahā manobhava or Supreme Cupid is being exposed here in these intimate pastimes of Radha and Krishna. Just understanding the concept of madana-mohana is the essence of understanding the Rāsa Lilā and all these most intimate pastimes of Radha and Krishna. As Shridhar Swami says at the beginning of the Rāsa.
The essence of all essences means that prema, the fifth goal of life is the essence of all the other purusharthas, namely dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa. But divya-kāma is the essence of that essence. The essence of all spiritual practices and goals.brahmādi-jaya-saṁrūḍha-darpa-kandarpa-darpahā |
jayati śrī-patir gopī-rāsa-maṇḍala-maṇḍanaḥ ||b||
Krishna destroyed the pride of Cupid, which had become so acute after conquering over the gods like Brahma. May the Lord of Shri, ornamenting the Rāsa circle with the gopis, be ever glorious.
The name sarveśa or sarveśvara is typically used to designate Radha's lover in the Nimbarka sampradaya. The explanation is sarveṣāṁ rasānām īśaḥ sarveśaḥ, the same idea as the Gaudiya akhila-rasāmṛta-mūrti]
Now someone may ask, "Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, kāma eṣa krodha eṣa rajoguṇa-samudbhavaḥ, kāma is a product of the material rajo-guṇa. So how can that be the highest of the highest stages of spiritual perfection?"
In fact, the above terms, sākṣāt manmatha-manmatha and mahā manobhava bhāsa both indicate that we are talking about something that is beyond even the Advaita doctrine's tūrīya state (the fourth state of consciousness which is completely transcendental).
In the Prīti-sandarbha, Shrila Jiva Goswami quotes from the Brihad Gautamiya Tantra a series of verses, the essence of [which is here conflated to]:
Mahāvāṇī also says, jai namo pragalabha bhaktidā, jai namo tūrya viraktadā: "The rasika Divine Couple give the most mature form of bhakti, which makes one indifferent to even transcendental consciousness." (Sevā-sukha, 38.60) So how can the kāma of the Divine Couple possibly be a product of the material rajo-guṇa?pūrṇāhantā-mayī bhaktis turyātītā nigadyate
Bhakti is the full manifestation of the sense of self and is said to be beyond even the fourth stage of consciousness.
Moreover, Rupa Goswamipada writes in the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi —
But, one may ask, how can you say that this surata-sukha or kāma-keli is higher than prema?vyatītya turyām api saṁśritānāṁtāṁ pañcamīṁ prema-mayīm avasthām |na sambhavaty eva hari-priyāṇāṁsvapno rajo-vṛtti-vijṛmbhito yaḥ ||
Krishna's divine mistresses are situated in prema, the fifth state beyond even the fourth state of transcendental consciousness (which is beyond waking, dream and deep sleep). Then how could the dream visions that they have of Krishna possibly be the products of the material mode of passion? (Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi 15.219)
In Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Rupa Goswamipada describes the symptoms of prema, which are the anubhāvas or sāttvika bhavas.
Now the anubhāvas or symptoms of kāma are given in the Kāma-sūtra by Vātsyāyana:te stambha-sveda-romāñcāḥ svara-bhedo’tha vepathuḥ |vaivarṇyam aśru pralaya ity aṣṭau sāttvikāḥ smṛtāḥ ||
The eight sāttvikas are transfixation, transpiration, horripilation, breaking of the voice, trembling, losing color, tears, and fainting. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 2.3.16)
So since the anubhāvas are of a completely different nature, we can separate the two and see why the author of Mahāvāṇī has placed the kāma-keli on a higher platform. The symptoms of prema, the sāttvikas , can create a disturbance in the experience of kāma-keli, for if tears, trembling or becoming transfixed should take place, then the full relishing of union cannot take place. Therefore the symptoms ascribed to kāma are more pleasing to the Rasika Couple.āliṅgana-cumbana-nakha-cchedya-daśana-cchedya-saṁveśana-sītkṛta-puruṣāyita-aupariṣṭakānām aṣṭānām aṣṭadhā vikalpa-bhedād aṣṭāv aṣṭakāś catuḥṣaṣṭir iti bābhravīyāḥ//The eight features of lovemaking are embracing, kissing, scratching, biting, penetration, moaning, changing roles, and reversing positions. These can be multiplied by combination to 64. (2.2.4)
The second difference is that in prema, there is mental union of the lovers. In the happiness of erotic union, surata-sukha, there is a union of bodies. Therefore Ramananda Ray says,
nā so ramaṇa, nā hāma ramaṇī
duṅhu mana manobhava peṣala jāni
He is no longer the lover, nor I the beloved. It is as though Eros had merged our minds [and bodies]. (CC 2.8.194)
That has been rendered in Sanskrit by Pt. Bhagiratha Jha.
In other words, in erotic love, one body merges with the other, such that the lovers feel themselves to have become one entity. This state is called prema-vilāsa-vivarta. For this reason, surata-sukha is called the ultimate happiness. The Radhavallabhi poet Dhruva Das says,sakhi na sa ramaṇo nāhaṁ ramaṇīti bhidāvayor āste |prema-rasenobhaya-mana iva madano niṣpipeṣa balāt ||
Oh friend, there is no more distinction between us: he is not the lover, nor I the beloved. Through the juices of prema, it is as though Cupid has forcefully ground both our minds together. (Yugma-tattva-samīkṣā 154)
At the end of the section called utsāha-sukha, Harivyasaji said,rasa ko avadhi jahāṁ loṁ māī |vivi tana mila ekahiṁ ho jāī ||
The rasika couple comes together in all respects in surata-keli, and so for this reason it is called the ultimate experience of rasa.
Finally, Beriwal cites following important verse from the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and its commentary by Sanatan Goswami as highlighted by 108 Dina Sharan Das Babaji Maharaj, who indicated it had particular significance in understanding the use of the word kāma in relation to the lila of the Divine Couple:niścai ura dharilehu ehu sarvopari hoīyā teṁ para je kahaiṁ mahā prativāī soī
Be certain that this is the highest state of the rasa. Anyone who says that there is anything beyond this is a great impediment.
This verse has been elucidated in Sanātana’s commentary on his Bṛhad-Bhāgavatāmṛta (2.7.154). He particularly elaborates at length on the use of the word kāma-devam found in the fourth line.jayati jananivāso devakī-janma-vādoyadu-vara-pariṣat svair dorbhir asyann adharmamsthira-cara-vrijina-ghnam susmita-śrī-mukhenavraja-pura-vanitānāṁ vardhayan kāma-devam
May that Krishna who resides in the hearts of all living beings be ever victorious; for though he is their resting place, he becomes incarnate in the womb of Devakī. [This is thus generally accepted as being the truth although it is only an appearance.] That Lord is served by the best of the members of the Yadu dynasty; he removed the influence of the irreligious with the help of the Pāṇḍavas and others who are like his own arms, killing all the demons through them. He removed the sufferings of all the moving and non-moving creatures and, by the glances from his softly smiling, beautiful face, caused the quickening of desire (kāma) in the hearts and minds of the womenfolk of the pastures [of Vraja] and the city [of Dvārakā], who thus desired for romantic intrigues with him.
[This verse makes three apparently self-contradictory statements. The first of these is that] he who resides as the Supersoul in the hearts of all living beings has appeared in the womb of Devakī as her son; for others he remains within, unseen. Though he likewise remains within Devakī also, he externalizes himself and walks and talks with her.
[The next apparent contradiction is that though] the great powerful heroes of the House of Yadu were all fully dedicated servitors of his and were competent to destroy any number of unruly opponents, he himself removed the oppressive irreligious elements by the strength of his own arms.
[The third such statement is that] even though he removes the sins of all creatures, stationary or moving, he still acts as the paramour of the gopīs, increasing their lusty desires (kāma), i.e., their “sin.”
Despite this appearance of contradiction, there is actually none: there is no offence on Krishna’s part because it is the nature of his sweetly smiling beautiful face to set the minds of others aflame. Even so, the gopīs count the glories of his world-enchanting smile, which destroys the effects of material desire (kāma) in the life of family attachments.
This last portion of the verse (vardhayan kāma-devam) can also be taken in this way: “He has become victorious by manifesting in the hearts of the gopīs all those manifold desires that will bring about his own personal pleasure” or “He becomes victorious over material desire (kāma) by increasing the gopis’ celestial love (kāma) for him.”
Lust or material desire (kāma) is said to be the destroyer of all honorable intentions in life, yet for the gopīs this lust is the destroyer of the cycle of material existence (saṁsāra). This is because it is in fact love (prema); it brings Krishna under their control and thus becomes the fruit of devotion as well as liberation. It became newer and fresher at every moment until it reached its transcendental climax. In other words, Śrī Krishna manifested himself in the hearts of the gopīs in an uninterrupted series of ever-new blossoming appearances, enkindling this love-lust of theirs to ever newer and greater heights. This is the way in which he establishes his glories.
Furthermore, because kāma or lust when related to Krishna becomes elevated to the highest and most perfect type of love, the word deva used in the verse in composition with kāma indicates its divine nature. On the other hand, the word deva is derived from the root div which has the meaning “to play,” implying that this kāma is not nocuous like the destructive desire of this material world, but is full of sportive amusements.
Thus the meaning reached here is that the Lord is ever glorious because, by manifesting unlimited amounts of beauty and sweetness, he produces the different erotic sports and dalliances in the gopīs. That devotion which has such amorous amusements as its external form causes the experience of the specific joy that arises from the direct vision of Krishna’s glowing lotus-like face. That joy is the bliss-giving potency (hlādinī śakti) emanating from his personal form, which causes all the other achievements of human life to dwindle into insignificance.
For this reason, this lust-love of the gopīs is the ultimate perfection of all kinds of devotion and should be recognized as the highest wealth of divine love. The vision of Krishna’s glowing lotus face, etc., here implies all the glories of his beauty, sweetness, charm, etc., in short, all of his opulences in their most intense aspect.