Wednesday, July 06, 2011

SKK 10: Radha-viraha (Part I)

So we start the last of the chapters (khaṇḍas) of Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana, called Rādhā-viraha. I have already discussed this chapter to some extent in a previous article. That article is from two years ago, so it really shows how long I have been doing this... I have reposted some of the quotes from that here again, but will give a more detailed summary.

As we have already mentioned, the last few pages (how many we don’t know) are missing from the manuscript. The most valuable introductory and concluding portions of the work are both lost and this is deeply frustrating, for reasons that will be evident.

Rādhā-viraha is the second longest portion of the book, with 68 extant songs and who knows how many went missing with the last pages? As was stated with regards to the dāna-keli chapter, the length likely reflects the popularity of the theme itself. And indeed, the theme of Radha’s separation from Krishna is one that continues to influence Bengali Vaishnavism in ways that other forms of Radha-Krishna worship in other schools are not. We have discussed in these pages the differences between the vision of the nitya-vihārī schools of Vrindavan and the Gaudiya sampradāya, particularly Rupa Goswami. But let us leave those issues again.

Though the previous chapter ended optimistically, the audience’s hopes are quickly dashed: it does not appear that this love affair is going to end happily. Radha is lamenting that she has not seen Krishna since that hopeful last meeting. No reason is given, we are simply plunged directly into her anxiety and distress at not seeing him. Krishna has simply disappeared from view (kahnāi gela ākāśe).

The original tambul incident is still on her mind, and indeed the tambul incident, which by now seems so long ago and so insignificant, is mentioned by Barai and Krishna numerous times in this chapter, even in the first few songs.

tāmbūla nā lailoṁ kare, toka ma:iloṁ caḍe,
teṁsi kāhna āsukhila more |

And so, the tambul once again takes center stage as the unforgivable original sin, even when, for all intents and purposes, it was the right course of action. Was Radha really supposed to have capitulated right away?

Radha’s misery leads to such statements as “I will go to the ocean and feed the sharks my own flesh (353.11). Radha dreams of Krishna coming and making love to her, but he disappears before the end of night without consummating the tryst, leaving her devastated. This seems to be a foretaste of what is to come.

Radha says she is now fully grown [I am assuming 15], “Before I was too young to understand. Now I am old enough (saṁpuna baesa), so why is he angry [when I am now fully desiring him and able to fulfill his desires]?"

Barai again is ambivalent. “Put your youth in a bag and on a shelf; forget Krishna,” she says. (poṭali bāṁdhiyāṁ rākho nahulī yauvana, 353)

Radha’s continues to beg Barai to find Krishna on her behalf, threatens to become a yogini. She laments that she was not able to fulfill her desire for love with Krishna, the fortune she had come to possess being stolen away by Fate:

O Barai! My youth and wealth are all worthless. I will tear off this pearl necklace and throw it away. I will wipe off the crimson mark in my hair and grind my conch bracelets into dust. O cruel Barai, give me back my life. My own flawed destiny has taken Krishna away from me. I will shave my head and go to the ocean; I will become a yogini and wander from land to land (muṇḍiāṁ pelāiboṁ keśa yāiboṁ sāgara | yoginī rūpa dhari la:iboṁ deśāntara ||). If I cannot have Krishna due to my past deeds, then I have no choice but to throw up my hands and swallow poison. I was unable to ever achieve the perfection of lovemaking with Krishna. The treasure I had wrapped in my cloth has been stolen by Fate. (kāhna same sādhiteṁ nā pāyiloṁ ratī sidhī | āñcalera dhana more harileka vidhī) Oh please, Barai, just this once do something to help me. Go and find Krishna and bring him to me. Even after seeing me dressed and decorated for him, he still left me behind, like an orphan. (354)

Barai again tells Radha to give up hope in a song (356) that goes back and forth with questions and answers:

basanta kāle kokila rāe | maṇe manamatha se bāṇa tāe ||
It is springtime and the koils are cooing. That sound is the arrow of Cupid piercing my mind.
Radhe keeps up the pressure telling Barai where to look. “Look for him here, there, everywhere.” Starting with Vrindavan, she tells her to go further, to the Bhagirathi and even to Jagannath Puri in search of Krishna. (357) This song, it should be mentioned, was taken as “proof” by Biman Bihari Majumdar that Chandidas was writing after Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s appearance and is a reference to his incarnation.

Again Radha says that like a yogi thinks of nothing other than his object of meditation, so she knows nothing but Krishna. (yogī yoga bine yehna mane | kāhnāyiṁ dhāḍi nā jāṇo mo āṇe || 359)

deva āsura nārāyaṇe | basa haya manamatha-bāṇe ||
nā basaeṁ tathāṁ ki madane | ye digeṁ base nārāyaṇe ||

The gods and demons as well as Narayan are all under the control of Cupid’s arrows. Do you think Cupid is not where Narayan is?
In song 361, Barai now says that the other gopis are inimical to Radha. They want Krishna to abandon her so that they can enjoy with him and that indeed this is what has happened.

363. Barai starts to feel some sympathy for Radha, seeing her great unhappiness. Krishna is somewhere in Vrindavan, so they set out looking for him.

364. One of the nicest descriptions of Krishna in the book so far. 365. Now Barai says she knows definitely where Krishna is, under the kadamba tree in Vrindavan, making love to the cowherd maidens (gopa-yuvatī same kare nidhuvana). In 366, they arrive at the kadamba tree, Radha is filled with expectations, described in the vāsaka-sajjikā manner, but he is not there. Radha is sent into another paroxysm of lamentation. (367) Again her options, “I will become a yogini and wander from land to land.”

The signs of spring, the birds, the bees, the pleasant breezes, the moonlight, all increase her suffering in the absence of Krishna. (368) Radha remains under the tree, with a soft bed of twigs and leaves and asks for Barai to please bring Krishna. Again she remembers

yabeṁ kāhna cāhile suratī |
mo tabeṁ āchiloṁ śiśumati ||
ebeṁ moñaṁ bhailoṁ bhara yuvatī |
āhmāka chāḍiāṁ kāhna gelā kati ||
se kāhnāñiṁ diāṁ moka dukha ātī |
rati bhuñje laāṁ koṇa yuvatī ||

When Kahnai wanted to make love to me, then I was just a child. Now I have reached the peak of my youth, but Kahnai has left me and gone who knows where? He is causing me so much pain by enjoying with some other girl.
Up until this time there has not been much in the way of jealousy, only that one incident in the Vṛndāvana-khaṇḍa when Krishna was late coming back to Radha and she was angry with him and indeed for a brief moment seemed to have the upper hand.

Another night passes with Radha having dreams of Krishna lying together with her. But she wakes up alone and in distress. Barai and she go out to Vrindavan looking for Krishna and this time they see him. Radha faints, Barai brings her back to awareness, and Radha starts to beg Krishna for forgiveness for all the things that she has done to give him pain (373), including of course the pan incident.

But Krishna does not answer kindly. Once again he brings up all the old grudges. He says, “Why don’t you mention that I took you across the river? Why don’t you consider my other kindnesses toward you? I carried your load to market, so now what brings you here? Go home and serve your husband Aihan. I am no longer attracted to you physically (chāra heno dekhoṁ ebeṁ tohmāra yauvana), so stop making trouble. I am going to Vrindavan.” (374)

Quite honestly, if Krishna’s cruelty to Radha has such an effect on me, here, so many years later, I can only imagine what it must have been like for someone in that Bengali audience 550 years ago. The poet has built up Radha’s suffering in separation to this point, her difficulty in finding Krishna, her expectations and joy on seeing him, and then her plaintive apologies for her wrongdoing, but it is not enough for him. And adding insult to injury he says, “I find your youthful beauty insignificant.”

After the agreement in the end of the previous chapter? Certainly it is difficult to find anything redeeming about Krishna at this point. I would even go so far as to say, “You have been a jerk most of the time from the beginning. What is your standard of love? If you are so high and think you can test the one who loves you to these limits, it does not seem forgivable to me.”

Now what? Radha’s prayer to Krishna appeals to him as God!

nāndera nandana kāhnāñi tohme vanamālī |
tribhuvane gosāñiṁ tohme adhikārī ||
narasiṁha rūpe tohme hiraṇya vidārī |
kaṁsa māribāre tohme gokula tarī ||
ālo śrīhari govinda madhusūdana |
jāyiteṁ ne more āpaṇa bhuvana ||
Oh Nandanandan, Kahnai, wearer of the forest garland! You are the master and owner of the three worlds. In the form of Nrisingha you tore Hiranyakashipu to shreds and now you have appeared in Gokul in order to destroy Kamsa. Oh Sri Hari, Govinda, Madhusudan! Please take me to your own abode! (375)
She continues to recount how she has spent the night dreaming of him, looking for him, how she has suffered not seeing him. Again she apologizes for the tambul incident. [How many times is that now?] “Please forgive all my faults and just let me sit next to you.” (375)

Here again, Krishna gives Radha no room for hope. This time he pleads his relationship as her husband’s nephew to say that it is improper for him to have an affair with her. He tells her to go home and stop coming on to him. This is almost a mirror image of the kinds of things Radha was saying to him in the earlier parts of the book when Krishna first approached her!

Radha calls Krishna cruel. "You are a nāgara, how can you abandon me like this?" Radha's appeal is direct and explicit. But Krishna only responds with the classic claim of being a brahmachari, recognizable in Rupa Goswami's Vidagdha-mādhava.

"Day and night, I practice yoga meditation. My mind has become the wind in the sky. I have tasted the nectar in the root lotus, for I have attained knowledge of Brahman. Stay away from me, O beautiful Radha. Stop desiring me. I have united the Ila, Pingala and Sushumna, and so captured the wind-like mind. I have sealed the tenth door (the Brahma-randhra) and am fully situated on the yogic path. I have cut the arrows of Cupid with the arrow of knowledge, and your youthful beauty no longer affects me. I no longer feel any transformations in my body and I recognize the futility of life in this world." With these cruel words the Holder of the Discus, the Lord, the best of the playboys (nāgara-vara) became still, absorbed in meditation. So sings Chandidas before his goddess Basali. (378)
The theme called bhāva-parīkṣā is found in the Bhāgavatam of course (10.29) as well as in Vidagdha-mādhava (Act 2) and Jagannātha-vallabha Nāṭaka (Act 2). Padyāvalī 290-291 also can be given as an example. Strictly speaking, bhāva-parīkṣā belongs to the pūrva-rāga section of the līlā and should not come here, after five years of relationship, but we are getting used to finding Chandidas applying these themes in unexpected contexts (such as the flute in the previous chapter).

Rupa Goswami has not discussed bhāva-parīkṣā in the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi, but Vishnudas cites all these examples in his commentary to UN 15.69 in the context of pūrva-rāga section, fitting it into the discussion of the love letter (kāma-lekha). In all the above texts, Krishna tests Radha, but never quite like this, never with this kind of serious intent or finality. Indeed, it is always done with some humor, at least where the audience is concerned. In the two plays mentioned above, moreover, Krishna immediately regrets having refused her love letter.

Another thing that comes to mind, perhaps even more grave here, is that even if Radha was to blame and all her peccadilloes to be taken seriously, is that how could he act in this way if he really loved her, if his love was "true"? The question for someone who takes Krishna seriously as a deity of any kind has to call his cruelty and lack of love into question. Rupa Goswami defines prema in Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi as follows:

sarvathā dhvaṁsa-rahitaṁ saty api dhvaṁsa-kāraṇe |
yad-bhāva-bandhanaṁ yūnoḥ sa premā parikīrtitaḥ ||

The bond of love that exists between the lovers which does not break, even when there is ample cause, is known as prema. (14.63)

And Vishwanath Chakravarti so beautifully expands on the idea:

loka-dvayāt svajanataḥ parataḥ svato vā
prāṇa-priyād api sumeru-samā yadi syuḥ |
kleśās tad apy atibalī sahasā vijitya
premaiva tān harir ibhān iva puṣṭim eti ||

As a strong lion defeats many elephants and then becomes further nourished and strengthened by feeding on them, so too does sacred love, when exceedingly great, conquer all obstacles before it, whether they come from this world or the next, from enemies or from family members, from one’s own body or the things connected to it, or even from that dearest one who is the object of the love itself. Even if such obstacles should be as vast as the immeasurable Mount Meru, sacred love will conquer them and, having conquered, become stronger and more vital. (Prema-sampuṭikā , 54)

These are indeed the kinds of standards to which Krishna himself has to be held. Rupa Goswami is indeed holding Krishna up to them. His Krishna would never do this to Radha. It would be absolutely impossible.

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