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.


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