Wednesday, May 25, 2011

SKK: Vṛndāvana-khaṇḍa

Chandidas's Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana by Chandi Das is quite a fascinating piece of literature. Despite what are obvious flaws to those who belong to later Vaishnava traditions, there is little doubt about its entertainment value.

The Vṛndāvana-khaṇḍa has 30 songs, which appears to equal the approximate number intended for a single night's performance. I think they pretty much sang the whole way through without commentary. Maybe two or three people performing taking the different parts.

Anyway, VK is interesting because it has elements of Gīta-govinda and the Rāsa dance woven into something quite different. I have been operating under the presumption that SKK was written without much knowledge of the Bhāgavatam, but this may be called into question as at least one or two unique features of the Bhāgavatam account are found here, though most of them are found in the Viṣṇu-purāṇa also.

Nevertheless, the use of these elements is contextually so different from the original that we have to wonder exactly how Chandi Das got from one to the other. If he had been reading the Bhāgavatam would the extent of its influence have been limited to the taking of one or two small details and neglected so many of its other powerful images? In any case, his following of the Viṣṇu-purāṇa or Hari-vaṁśa is also extremely loose, so I will stand by my feeling that the Bhāgavatam was not very prominent in Bengali culture at the time of the writing of the SKK.

The story begins with (again) Radha having to complain that a cowherd woman is supposed to sell the milk products in the market or where else is the money going to come from. She says, though, that she will go accompanied by 16,000 sakhis, so there is no fear of any corrupting influence from Krishna.

But as soon as Baḍāi gets the chance, she tells Radha that Krishna has abandoned all his naughty behavior such as taking tolls or taking people across the river. Instead, he has taken to fruit growing and horticulture, creating a beautiful garden in Vrindavan. Not only that, but he is giving fruit and flowers for free to afflicted travelers on the road and even treating them as his guests, walking with them all the way to the ghat. Now it is the spring, so it is really worth seeing the beauty of the flower gardens.

Radha and the gopis decide to follow the path that leads through Vrindavan. When they see Krishna, he confirms that he is a changed person:

bāṭa-dāṇa hāṭa-dāna āra ghāṭa-dāna
saba ādhikāra teji base vṛndāvane
ebeṁ saba lokera se kare upakāra
dharama dekhiāṁ se tejila para-dāra

”I have given up all my rights to collect taxes on the road, market or ferry docks. I am now just living here in the Vrindavan forest and am engaged in doing good works for others. I have also learned what is righteous behavior and have so given up chasing after married women. (221)

The forest is described with a lengthy listing of all the flowers and fruit trees that can be found there, in something of the mood of the "six seasons" descriptions that are in most of the Gaudiya lila texts, but belong to a much more ancient tradition (Cf. Ṛtu-saṁhāra of Kalidas)

eke eke ṛtu-gaṇe vilāsa kaila

Each one of the seasons is on display here in Vrindavan. (223)

By now, Radha has fallen for Krishna. So when he says,

śapatha kariāṁ rādhā boloṁ e bacane
tohmāra āntare kailoṁ e vṛndāvane
sakala śarīra mājheṁ tohme yena sāra
tehna saba vana mājheṁ e vana āhmāra
ehāta ucita hae tohmāra vilāsa

"I swear to you, Radha, that I have created this Vrindavan just for you. Just like you are the essence of all bodies, so it is with my forest amongst all the forests and gardens of the world. So it is fitting that you should enjoy with me here." (224)

Radha agrees, but asks, "What are we going to do about these 16,000 girls? I can't really trust them, you know. They are ready to tell on me at any time. Can't you get them picking flowers and fruits and stuff, you know, distract them?"

Krishna promises to do so, actually saying,

āji se kariboṁ tora sakhī

I will make everyone of them into your sakhi. (226)

So off he goes. At first he tries to get them just taking the fruits and flowers. But before you know it, he starts flirting with them. Then when he tries to leave, you get the first Rāsa-līlā flash: The gopis start to say, "We are attracted to you and you can't just leave us alone in the woods."

lāja bhaya tejiāṁ sakala gopī-gaṇe
miliāṁ buila giāṁ govinda-caraṇe
āhmā nā heliha gosāṣi ānera vacane
āji haiteṁ āhme sahme tohmāra śaraṇe

All we gopis have abandoned fear and shame to come and place ourselves at Govinda’s feet. Oh Lord, do not cast us aside, for from this day we have taken shelter of you. (228)
bujhibāre nārila tohmāra jagannātha
pāta pātiāṁ kehne nāhiṁ deha bhāta

We haven’t been able to understand you, Lord of the Universe. You have put the plate before us, but don’t serve the food. (228)

So Krishna says, "Alright." And he divides himself into 16,000 forms and enjoys in the kunjas with each one of them.

eka eka nāri laāṁ eka eka kuñje

He took each of the girls into a separate bower. (229)

But of course, the whole time his mind is dwelling on Radha (vikala govinda murārī rādhāra nehe, "Govinda was incapacitated by thought of Radha’s love." 229), and he is a little afraid also. So as soon as he can he sneaks away to be with her. The other gopis go looking for Krishna and follow his footprints, just a tiny flash of the Rāsa-līlā which is found in the Viṣṇu-purāṇa version also.

dekha pāa cihna kathāṁ gelā banamālī

Look, here are Vanamali’s footprints. Where has he gone? (230)

The gopis never do find Krishna in Chandidas's version, but his meeting with Radharani is not altogether happy. She is pretty angry at his delay and the reasons for it.

bāṅke yena bhāta pāāṁ nā eḍe nidhane nidhī
tena gopīgaṇa eḍiteṁ kāhnāṣiṁ hārāyila sakala budhī
ekeṁ cāhileṁ āreṁ pāyileṁ āpaṇa maṇera sukhe
saba gopī nārī miliāṁ ebeṁ ki raṣjasi mora mukhe

Like a poor man who gets rice still does not give up a treasure in his poverty, Kahnai, so you have lost your intelligence in giving up the gopis. You wanted one and got all the others, to your great delight. So what are you coming here to flatter me for?
I am still finding that first simile a little obscure. Could it perhaps be a twist on BhP 10.32.18?

At any rate, Krishna here sings a Bengali translation of the famous song in Gīta-govinda which he there uses to break Radha's anger.

yadi kichu bola bolasi tabeṁ daśana-ruci tohmāre
hare durubāra bhaya āndhakāra sundari rādhā āhmāre

O Radha, my beauty! If you speak something to me, then the light shining from your teeth will remove the thick fear and darkness from my heart. (232)

But this time Radha does not buy it. She thinks it is just sweet talk and flummery. Reflecting on this, I think this could even be considered Chandi Das commenting on Gīta-govinda itself. When it comes to the flowery Sanskrit or the direct Bengali, the former sounds out of place: Think an 18th century French fob using his courtly manners with a milkmaid in the cowshed. The phrase "cow manure" seems appropriate. You can see why Klein or De sympathize with the vernacular.

kāhnāñiṁ lo ! bujhila bujhila tohmāra matī
sama dekha sakala yuvatī

Oh Kahnai! I have finally understood your way of thinking. You see all women as the same. (241)

So what does Krishna do? He gets angry and starts to blame Radha for the damages done to the forest by the gopis who picked fruit and flowers, as well as breaking branches and causing other damages. "I have paid for this out of my own pocket..."

So they bicker for a while until finally Krishna finds the words by which Radha's mind is changed and Radha even glorifies their love with the idea of their spiritual unity.

tohmāra āhmāra duī maṇe
eka karī gānthila madane
tāra ānurūpa vṛndāvane
tora bola nā kariba āne
vidhi kaila tora mora nehe
eka:ī parāṇa eka dehe
se neha tiaja nāhiṁ sahe
se puṇi āhmāra doṣa nahe

Eros has tied your mind and mine together. Vrindavan is exactly like that, so I will not do other that what you say. God has created our love and we have become one life in one body. This love cannot tolerate any intruder, that is not my fault, so please don’t blame me for this. (243)

And the chapter ends with them making love, as appears to be the convention.

So there is a small possible influence of the rāsa-līlā and the Bhāgavatam, another from Gīta-govinda, and then a few original elements that are inducted into the permanent repertoire of Radha-Krishna : The bickering over the gopis' rights to pick the fruit and flowers from Vrindavan as well as the forest descriptions that are almost required elements of the Sanskrit aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

DKK: Daily classes at SRSG: Verse 5

I am trying to get my translation and commentary on the Dāna-keli-kaumudī along with an update of the article I presented at JNU last year for publication. As a part of that, I have been giving evening classes on DKK here to a small audience. The ashram is nearly empty and those who are left have to be extraordinarily motivated to come to listen to me speak, quite understandably. So I am happy to get an audience of one or two persons.

We have been moving rather more slowly than originally expected, and for the last three days we have managed to do only one verse a day, from three to five, the last of which we really only just began.

Verses three and four technically belong to the prastāvanā portion of the play. They describe and explain the ecstatic symptoms of the devotees. Today, I chanted my kirtan alone, as my small audience was late, and as I was reciting my own mangalacharana, I imagined my own audience -- Sri Rupa Goswami, the other Goswamis, the other great rasika saints of Vrindavan, then the associates of Mahaprabhu, then Radha and Krishna and the sakhis. By the time I was finished, the hall was full of the most divine but invisible audience.

I realized as I was doing it that this is what Rupa Goswami himself had been doing something similar when he wrote those verses. Were there so many people who knew Sanskrit who could relish this play? Were there so many ecstatic devotees who would display ashta-sattvikas as he describes it, especially out there by Nanda Gram, which would have been isolated and sparely inhabited?

He was writing on the one hand to create the image of an ideal audience of sat-samājikas, devotees who would be uniquely qualified to relish these rarified topics of Radha-Krishna līlā. It also served the purpose of justifying the līlā itself.

The Goswamis argue that the Rāsa-līlā could not have been a mundane or material affair, since Shukadeva himself was such a pure soul, situated in transcendence, a true Brahma-jñānī, so how could he have possibly been attracted by mundane activities, on whatever level?

Similarly, after describing the audience's ecstatic transformations in verse 3, Rupa Goswami glorifies the devotees as being intoxicated with the liquor of purest prema, and says in verse 4:

gabhīro’py aśrāntaṁ duradhigama-pāro’pi nitarām
ahāryāṁ maryādāṁ dadhad api harer āspadam api |
satāṁ stomaḥ premaṇy udayati samagre sthagayituṁ
vikāraṁ na sphāraṁ jala-nidhir ivendau prabhavati ||

Though these saintly lovers of God
are deep and inscrutable like the ocean,
whose other side cannot be seen,
and which never exceed its limits,
and though both they and the ocean are the resting place of Vishnu,
they are unable to resist
the onslaught of ecstasies
when love for Krishna rises,
any more than the ocean
can resist the pull of the risen moon.
Then the sūtradhāra states after reflection,

tatrāpi viśva-vilakṣaṇā sā nirbharam atimohinī keli-caryā |

Even so, the amusements of the Lord are unique in the universe and most enchanting.
The point is that in the tasting of material rasa, one needs an external stimulus, some production with the necessary ingredients to produce the rasa. A superior product produces a superior quality of rasa in the qualified audience. In bhakti-rasa, however, prema itself is sufficient, because the constant memory of the Lord is sufficient stimulus to produce unlimited experience of rasa on its own.

Even so, the work of glorification of the Lord, when heard by someone who is pure of heart with divine love, natural creates an overwhelming stimulus for ecstatic response. Shri Rupa is pointing out that a production related to Radha and Krishna does not have to be inferior; indeed, properly composed by an expert author and devotee, it will be enjoyed by all levels of audience:

nivṛtta-tarṣair upagīyamānād
bhavauṣadhāc chrotamanobhirāmāt |
ka uttama-śloka-guṇānuvādat
pumān virajyeta vinā paśughnāt ||

The virtues of the Lord
who is glorified in the greatest poetry
are sung by those who know no thirst;
it is the medicine for the material disease
and is a joy to hear [for all];
other than the soul-killers
who then will care nothing for them? (BhP 10.1.3)
In other words, only the purest souls with the most divine insight can truly glorify God because they have no taste for anything else. Even so, a sadhaka with taste that is not yet fully developed can still recognize that this is the remedy for the material condition. But even an ordinary person will still be able to take pleasure in such accounts when they are properly presented.

In order to explain this further, the sūtradhāra says:

premorjitā narma-vivāda-goṣṭhī
gopendra-sūnoḥ saha rādhayāsau |
haṁsān api śrotra-taṭīm avāptā
śuddhāmṛtād apy abhito ruṇaddhi ||

The banter and love-quarrels
of the son of Nanda and Śrīmatī Radharāṇī,
which are empowered by Divine Love,
would stun the swans on entering their ears
and turn them off even the purest nectar.
And it would do the same to the paramahaṁsas,
making them indifferent to the joys of brahman realization.
As we have been trying to explain in the various postings on Baru Chandidas's Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana, we feel that Rupa Goswami was trying to rehabilitate the person of Krishna from the depiction made of him by Chandidas. So here he starts with the words premorjitā, "empowered by Divine Love", indicating that the point of departure for all these līlās is a most pure love that can never be tinged by material lust.

Perhaps the Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana can be said to describe the transformation of a rather disagreeable and immature teenager through the pure love of a girl, but it is hard to find evidence of it, especially since the last pages of the manuscript are missing. But even if Krishna were to come back to reunite with Radha in the last scene of SKK, it would barely redeem the lusty and aggressive youth, whose actions seem to be quite far from divine.

So Rupa Goswami reminds us once again of Shukadeva, and the spiritual and divine nature of this love, and even these arguments, narma-vivāda-goṣṭhī, which would attract even the paramahamsas.

In one of the verses that Shri Jiva Prabhu quotes most frequently to support his contention that Krishna returns to Vrindavan, and becomes the eternal partner of the gopis in the way that they want to be united with him, Krishna says to the gopis at Kurukshetra:

mayi bhaktir hi bhūtānām
amṛtatvāya kalpate
diṣṭyā yad āsīn mat-sneho
bhavatīnāṁ mad-āpanaḥ ||
Whoever engages in my devotional service attains immortality, i.e., liberation or eternal felicity. You are especially blessed on account of the deep love you have for me, by which you will surely attain me. (SB 10.82.41)
Prema is all auspicious; it has the power to attracts God and make him present. Divine love has the inevitable result of divine reciprocation. It cannot be otherwise. Any depiction of Radha and Krishna's loves that misses this ingredient must be left by the wayside because it ultimately will not provide a door to that experience of prema in transcendence.