Krishna's flute, kama-bija and Kamadeva's five arrows

Watercolor by Anjali Tripathi 

The next section of SKK is the Vaṁśī-khaṇḍa; it is the second to last in the book, comparatively long with a total of 42 songs. It does not appear that any pages (169-189) from this section were lost. The plot is not particularly complex, but stands out for having some of the most powerful songs in the entire work.

The principal subject of the chapter is the effect of Krishna’s flute on Radha and it ends with her theft of the flute, with the attendant consequences.

Krishna's flute is, of course, one of the symbols most closely associated with his iconography, and has a great deal of significance, which helps to account for its resilience. For Rupa Goswami, it is one of the four special characteristics of Krishna that separate him from all other forms of the Vishnu-complex of deities.

sarvādbhuta-camatkāra- līlā-kallola-vāridhiḥ |
atulya-madhura-prema-maṇḍita-priya-maṇḍalaḥ ||41||
trijagan-mānasākarṣi-muralī-kala-kūjitaḥ |
asamānordhva-rūpa-śrī-vismāpita-carācaraḥ ||42||
līlā-premṇā priyādhikyaṁ mādhuryaṁ veṇu-rūpayoḥ |
ity asādhāraṇaṁ proktaṁ govindasya catuṣṭayam ||43||
The ocean of wavelike pastimes that are amazing and wondrous to all; a circle of beloved devotees who are endowed with unequaled sweet love; the sound of his delightful flute, which attracts the minds of all the three realms, and his unmatched and unexcelled beauty, which astounds all creatures, moving and unmoving. These last four: the dearness of his pastimes and his prema, and the sweetness of his flute and form are Govinda's uncommon characteristics, not possessed by any other forms of the Godhead. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 2.1.41-43)
Even though the prominent role of the flute appears to be a unique contribution of the Bhāgavatam in the Puranic literature, as it has little prominence in either the Harivaṁśa or the Viṣṇu-purāṇa, it seems to have pervaded the Indian consciousness even without such a major textual source. The Bhāgavatam prioritizes the flute in two chapters (10.21 and 10.35) and there are several other references, primarily in connection with the gopis and the erotic sentiment, such as 10.29.3, 10.29.40 and 10.31.16. Not surprisingly, therefore, antecedents can be found in the Alwars, such as the Perumal Tirumoli of Kulashekhara.

There are several references to the flute in the Gīta-govinda (1.45, 2.19, 3.16, 4.9, 8.11), even though it plays no role in the story itself. The last of these verses is a blessing to be given by the sound of the flute itself:

stambhākarṣaṇa-dṛṣṭi-harṣaṇa-mahā-mantraḥ kuraṅgī-dṛśām |
bhraṁśaḥ kaṁsa-ripor vyapohayatu vaḥ śreyāṁsi vaṁśī-ravaḥ ||
May the enemy of Kamsa Krishna’s flute-song bring you all auspiciousness. It is the great magic spell (mahā-mantra) that enchants the the doe-eyed gopis’ hearts, causes their heads to spin and the mandara flowers in their hair to slide down, paralyzing, attracting, widening their eyes, and thrilling them, even as it destroys the overwhelming danger and misery of the gods caused by the arrogant demons. (8.11)
Umapati Dhara, Jayadeva's contemporary and rival, also has several verses dedicated to the flute quoted in Padyāvalī, including one somewhat similar to the above [In fact, there are reasons to believe that in the Sena court of the 12th century, poets played a kind of game where they would be given a theme, a last line or certain words, and were engaged in a competition to see who could come up with the best verses, which would help account for such a similarity.]:

sāyaṁ vyāvartamānakhila-surabhi-kulāhvāna-saṁketa-nāmāny
abhīrī-vṛnda-ceto haṭha-haraṇa-kalā-siddha-mantrākṣarāṇi |
saubhāgyaṁ vaḥ samantād dadhatu madhu-bhidaḥ keli-gopāla-mūrteḥ
sānandakṛṣṭa-vṛndāvana-rasika-mṛga-śreṇayo veṇu-nādāḥ ||
May the flutesong of Vishnu in his carefree cowherd form
bring you all good fortune
as it calls out the name of each cow returning in the evening,
as it sings out the letters of the powerful spell (siddha-mantra)
that forcefully steals the minds of all the cowherd girls,
and joyfully attracts all the discerning animals of Vrinda’s forest.

(Sad-ukti-karṇāmṛta 1.57.3, Padyāvalī 5)
Both of these references equate the flute to a mantra, and this is indeed an underlying theme that pops up with some frequency. For instance, in Brahma-saṁhitā, Lord Brahma has a vision after performing penances with the 18-syllable mantra, in which he sees Krishna and hears his flute -- śabda-brahma-mayaṁ veṇuṁ (“the Venu contains alḷ the divine sounds of the Vedas”, 1.26). This is then identified with the Gayatri mantra (atha veṇu-ninādasya trayī-mūrti-mayī gatiḥ, 1.27) by means of which Lord Brahma’s mantra is “completed, purified, consecrated, perfected” (saṁskṛta) by Krishna, the ādi-guru. This then empowers him to recite the Veda and engage in the work of creation.

In his commentary to BhP 10.29.3 (jagau kalaṁ vāma-dṛśāṁ manoharam), Sanatan Goswami identifies the flute sound with the kāma-bīja seed-syllable klīṁ, which is closely connected to Krishna’s worship in śṛṁgāra-rasa. In the first song of SKK's Vaṁśī-khaṇḍa it is also said that Krishna fills the flute with the omkara and this has the capacity of enchanting the universe.

hariṣe pūriāṁ kāhnaiñiṁ tāhāta oṁkāra
vāṁśīra śabadeṁ pāre jaga mohibāra

The two syllables, om and klīṁ are equated in the Gopāla-tāpinī Upaniṣad (klīm oṁkārasyaikyatvaṁ paṭhyate brahma-vādibhiḥ GTU 2.57) where the mantra is broken down to equate it with the universal creation. Other interpretations of the distinctively named kāma-bīja, such as this from the Gautamīya-tantra, however, draw a more explicit connection to śṛṅgāra-rasa.

ka-kāraḥ puruṣaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ sac-cid-ānanda-vigrahaḥ |
ī-kāraḥ prakṛtī rādhā nitya-vṛndāvaneśvarī ||
laś cānandātmakaṁ prema-sukhaṁ ca parikīrtitam |
cumbanāśleṣa-mādhuryaṁ bindu-nāda-samīritam ||
The letter k is the Supreme Purusha, who has a form of being, consciousness and joy; the vowel ī represents Radha, who is the Supreme Prakriti, the eternal mistress of Vrindavan. The letter l is their joyful union in love; the bindu-nāda represent the sweetness of their kisses and embracing.
The equation of the flute sound to the kāma-bīja conjures up thought of the relationship of Krishna to Kama, which has been visited on these pages before, though it is a subject which is by no means exhausted. But even in the verses related to the flute, one characteristic of Kamadeva's five arrows can be seen.

Kamadeva has five arrows which are sometimes associated with five flowers (puṣpa-bāṇa), but are also associated with five effects that desire has on one afflicted by it. It is hard to find a consistent set of such characteristics. In Prabodhananda's commentary to Gīta-govinda, he gives the following verse:

sammohanaḥ kṣobhanaś ca dahanaḥ śoṣaṇas tathā |
uccāṭanaś ca kāmasya bāṇāḥ pañca prakīrtitāḥ ||
Kamadeva's five arrows are said to be fascination, disturbance, burning, dessication and destruction.
Amara gives the following set of five:

unmādanas tāpanaś ca śoṣaṇaḥ stambhanas tathā |
saṁmohanaś ca kāmasya pañca bāṇāḥ prakīrtitāḥ ||
Intoxication, inflicting of heat or pain, dessication, immobilization and bewilderment.
Other listings add ākarṣaṇa (attraction), mādana (crazing), māraṇa (killing), vaśīkaraṇa (subjugation), etc. Many of these appear to be similar to the five kinds of abhicāra or "black magic" rituals and spells that are found in the Tantra, namely māraṇa (killing), mohana (enchanting), vaśīkaraṇa, stambhana and uccāṭana. As we saw in the chapter on the Bāṇa-khaṇḍa, the arrows of Cupid are seen to have a devastating effect, not altogether different from taking a person's life, as Chandidas repeats many times.

Some of these characteristics can be seen in those references where the flute is compared to a mantra. For instance, it seems not unlikely that at least some of the overtones of these effects were influencing Jayadeva's choice of words in the verse above cited.

A total of 58 verses in Padyāvalī mention the flute or glorify it in some way (veṇu 14, vaṁśī 13, muralī 31). Of these, 25 are generic descriptions of Krishna that include the flute. Another 33 are more specific in describing the relation of the flute to the lilas. Here is a selection of some of those:

The following verse by Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya from the point of view of a sadhaka speaks of the attractiveness of the flute (ākarṣaṇa):

jñātaṁ kāṇabhujaṁ mataṁ paricitaivānvīkṣikī śikṣitā
mīmāṁsā viditaiva sāṅkhya-saraṇir yoge vitīrṇā matiḥ |
vedāntāḥ pariśīlitāḥ sarabhasaṁ kiṁ tu sphuran-mādhurī-
dhārā kācana nandasūnu-muralī mac-cittam ākarṣati ||
I know the philosophy of Kaṇāda (Vaiśeṣika) and become familiar with Nyāya, I have learned the Mīmāṁsā, understood the path of Sāṅkhya and graduated in my understanding of Yoga. I have cultivated my knowledge of the Vedānta systems and yet, some rush of sweet sound escaping the son of Nanda’s flute is forcefully attracting my mind. (Padyāvalī 99)
Rupa's own verse in a more madhura vein has the words mohana-mantra, or enchanting spell:

tarale na kuru vilambaṁ
kumbhaṁ saṁsmṛtya mandiraṁ yāhi |
yāvan na mohana-mantraṁ
śaṁsati kaṁsadviṣo vaṁśī ||
O fickle one! Don’t delay,
Remember your water jug and go home,
before the flute of Kamsa’s enemy
begins casting its spell of fascination.
(Padyāvalī 307)
kaṅkelli-koraka-karambita-karṇa-pūraḥ |
ko’yaṁ navīna-nikaṣopala-tulya-veṣo
vaṁśī-raveṇa sakhi mām avaśīkaroti ||
Who is this whose beautiful sweet face displays the art of tempestuous dancing of the eyebrow vine? Whose ears are decorated with flower clusters from the ashoka tree? And whose dress is the golden color of the streak left on a touchstone? He has made me helpless with the sound of his flute. (158)
guru-jana-gañjanam ayaśo
gṛha-pati-caritaṁ ca dāruṇaṁ kim api |
vismārayati samastaṁ
śiva śiva muralī murārāteḥ ||
Criticism from my elders,
my bad reputation,
my husband treating me badly –
whatever problems I have are immediately forgotten,
O Lord O Lord, when
the enemy of Mura blows his flute. (172)
Krishna's power and the power of love over the gopis is thus symbolized by the flute, which leads to the gopis' repeated efforts to steal it.

In the next post, I will complete the summary of the Vaṁśī-khaṇḍa. The point of interest here was to broach an investigation into the relationship between the flute and Cupid, since the two seem so closely connected. Both of the themes remain connected throughout the Vaishnava literature, but usually without an explicit tying together.

I have not seen a story-line like that of the Bāṇa-khaṇḍa anywhere in the Sanskrit texts. Moreover, in SKK, it is curious as to why Chandidas leaves the flute to the very end of the book, when generally it is associated with the pūrva-rāga. And why was it necessary to have Krishna dress up as Cupid and fire flower arrows at Radha when he had the weapon of choice, his flute, ready to hand?

Chandidas is original and idiosyncratic in his presentation, no doubt, but so many of his narrative themes have been preserved and adapted in the later tradition, while his overall vision, for the most part, has not. What exactly that vision is still remains something of a riddle.


Sumedha said…
An interesting and informative blog! Can you tell me the names of the five flowers associated with Kamadeva's arrows?
Balarāma Dāsa said…
This is a wonderful article on the pañcabānās.

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