Sunday, December 09, 2012

The gopis insult the banyan tree


We have been reading about the gopis in separation and how they are madly asking the trees for Krishna's whereabouts. In 10.30.4, the first trees the gopis approach to ask for Krishna's whereabouts are the ashwattha, plaksha and nyagrodha, all variants of the banyan or sacred fig. This is ostensibly because they are the tallest trees and would have been best able to see Krishna from their lofty height.

They are also the kings of the forest, representing Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma respectively. But when these trees don't answer their polite request, which is accompanied by a confession of their distressed state of mind ("the son of Nanda has stolen our minds and run away!"), Vishwanath paraphrases the gopis' reaction, saying that they insult them, saying, "You are just dirty-minded men and, besides, you just have small fruits!"

When I read this, I burst out laughing because of the implications of this insult.

Some people suggested that the gopis are pointing out that the devas and the three presiding deities of the three gunas who only give lower or small fruit and cannot really give Krishna himself, who is beyond the gunas.

This interpretation is appropriate, but here [I think Vishwanath intends to say] the gopis first approach the male trees, the "big shots." But as in the next verse, they don't trust them because they are men and Krishna is a man, and so they will naturally take his side over theirs. Besides, such important personages don't really understand or sympathize with the plight of women in love. Moreover, they are Krishna's friends or servants and do not dare to offend him.

So the gopis say they are duṣṭāntaḥkaraṇa, "polluted in mind," since they put other concerns ahead of charity and empathy. And furthermore, because they lack the courage to betray Krishna by helping them, they make use of a popular insult that refers to the roundish, seed-bearing entities that males possess.

This of course is my own dirty mind seizing on the implications. But I suspect that these forest dwelling milkmaids (āraṇyā) are not necessarily above such things! Since the meaning is somewhat ambiguous, and they only said it to each other, and since they are under great stress, we may forgive them.

In the next verse, they go to the flower bearing trees like the ashoka, thinking that they will be more sympathetic, even though they too are males. The flowers are representative of smiles and a lighthearted, purer and kinder nature. But unfortunately, those trees also let them down. But at least they shake their heads by way of a slight breeze that moves their uppermost branches to let them know that they cannot answer or do not know.

1 comment:

Satya devi dasi said...

This is confusing to me. The production of fruit and seeds from trees is usually considered female.