Samarthā rati

A couple of years ago, I started summarizing the three ratis from Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi  I never completed the series, but the first two articles can still be found here: Samañjasā and Sādhāraṇī. I will now try to complete this project by working on samarthā rati. This may require more than one article, and I intend to tie it in with some other ideas.

I will start off this discussion by simply quoting verbatim my translation of Mañjarī-svarūpa-nirūpaṇa, completed in 1983.


The dominant mood of erotic sacred rapture is also given the name of samarthā rati (“competent affection”). Kṛṣṇa is the greatest lover in the supernatural affaires-de-coeur of the sacred land of Vrindavan and there, the supreme among his lady-loves are the cowherd girls. Here Viśvanātha Cakravartin makes some relevant comments about samarthā rati in his commentary on Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi:

This samarthā rati is extremely potent and exists eternally in the gopīs; it does not depend therefore on any other causes such as hearing Kṛṣṇa’s qualities, etc. It is present in them even prior to their attainment of adolescence, first in a general or indistinct (sāmānya) way. Even so, they loved Kṛṣṇa with all their hearts, and all the activities of their senses were for his satisfaction only. Afterwards, in the manifest līlā, when they came of age and sexual desire emerged, they developed a specific affection for him. In their minds arose the desire for physical association with Kṛṣṇa, which was similarly for his satisfaction exclusively. Therefore, no difference whatsoever exists between their personally craving erotic contact with him and their love for him; the two had merged into a single identity. Such a fusion of these two spirits is possible in the Vrindavan gopīs and cannot exist elsewhere. This is the sign of their competence and makes their love for Kṛṣṇa worthy of the name samarthā rati. From the time of their reaching maidenhood, they desired to serve the Lord through this gift of their own bodies—that was their vow; this love of theirs is thus known as madhurā rati.
Again, in the same book, commenting further on UN 14.51, Viśvanātha expands on the meaning of the term samarthā rati:
Because the gopīs’ desire for erotic love has fused with their selfless affection for Kṛṣṇa and has not the slightest hint of egocentricity to it, it is called competent affection. Competent in what respects? First of all, it is competent to tame their lover, the Supreme Lord, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and bring him to complete submission. Secondly, it gives them the competence to fully relish his form, qualities, talents and sweetness in a way that no one else can. Third, it is competent to bewilder and astonish Śrī Kṛṣṇa, even as he himself bestows appreciation of himself on them. Fourth, it is so potent that it causes Kṛṣṇa’s already extraordinary qualities, forms and talents, etc., to take on newer and newer freshness and thus causes the increase of even their unlimited excellence. Therefore the name of “competent affection” or samarthā rati is exceedingly fitting.
In the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, 10.47.61, Uddhava states that because they had reached the highest degree of attachment for Kṛṣṇa, the Vraja milk-maids were competent (or capable) to give up their relatives as well as the path of conventional morality despite the difficulties involved in such abnegation.

Adopting this path of extreme attraction, they found an unexcelled process for attaining Mukunda, the giver of liberation. This unexcelled process has been searched for by the śrutis, the more ancient portion of the scriptures, but they have not yet been able to discover it. In other words, such an intensity of passion is outside the regular standards of behavior found in the Vedas. Nevertheless, that which is the object of the search of the scriptures is certainly going to be the supremely ecstatic, eternal spiritual truth and not anything else.

The basic definition of samarthā rati as given by Rūpa Gosvāmin is as follows:
According to the school of æsthetics, the affection known as samarthā rati is characterized by a superiority to all other affections such as sādhāraṇī and samañjasā because of its spontaneous and self-manifesting character. It is competent to control Kṛṣṇa because of its intensity; it brings sensuality into tow and unites it with selfless love. It bursts into existence on the slightest contact, either with other mistresses of the Lord or the sound of his name, etc. Even the slightest fragrance of this samarthā rati causes one to leave aside the considerations of family, religion, composure or modesty, and to become oblivious to any obstacles to such renunciation. It is the most intense kind of love, to the extent that no other affection can coexist with it.
This love of the gopīs, as has been previously mentioned, is known by the name of kāma “desire,” or according to Rūpa Gosvāmin, by the longer term, kāma-rūpā rāgātmikā bhakti, “passionate devotion which takes the form of [sexual] desire.” This variety of devotion exists in the gopīs alone.

Jīva Gosvāmin adds in his commentary that the word kāma usually refers to the desire for one’s personal sense gratification. Although it usually implies gross bodily activity, sensual desire has a subtle or psychological aspect also. The mentality of the gopīs is, “May Kṛṣṇa get pleasure from me,” and due to the intensity of that inner feeling, their external activities of kissing and embracing, etc., are also translated into genuine selfless acts of affection or love. This is the competence that earns it the title of samarthā rati by which it has also become known.

The following is an example from Viśvanātha’s “The Nectar of thinking about Kṛṣṇa” (Kṛṣṇa-bhāvanāmṛta, 9.65). It is described that when when the Divine Couple first meet for their noontime dalliances, they embrace and begin to exchange kisses and caresses. These embraces and caresses begin to increase the beauty of their love just as the rays of the moon increase its loveliness without being something distinct from it. In other words, just as the moon and its cooling light are not different from one another, neither are Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa’s love for one another and their expression of it in erotic activity. The moon and its rays may be distinguished for the sake of analysis, but actually one is simply the expression or by-product of the other; so too is it with the Divine Couple’s love and its expression in embracing, kissing, etc.

The same applies equally to all the other girls of Vrindavan. By way of contrast, in mundane sexual affairs no such distinction between external expression and internal feeling can be made, for true selflessness in the carnal act is nowhere to be found.

In Rūpa Gosvāmin’s hymn containing Rādhā’s 108 names, he calls her Gokulendra-suta-prema-kāma-bhūpendra-pattanam: “the capital city of the king of lust-like love for the son of the king of Gokula.” When Rādhā feels lusty desire for Kṛṣṇa, that should be known as pure love or prema and nothing else.

Kṛṣṇa’s servants, friends and parents also feel passionate devotion for him (rāgātmikā bhakti). They also have an intense craving to unite their senses with his form, taste, touch, sound and smell. This they do in accordance with their own status and propensity. The distinct features of the gopīs’ erotic desire is that, due to it, they crave for the touching of hearts as well as the union of every limb of their body with his. “My heart cries out for the touch of his heart,” sings the gopī. It can thus be concluded that spontaneous craving or passionate devotion for Kṛṣṇa reaches its zenith in the mood of the gopīs. Thus we conclude that there is no difference between the kāma-rūpā bhakti of the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu and the samarthā-rati of Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi.

In the Prīti-sandarbha also (367), Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmin has described samarthā rati as being natural to the gopīs. “Though its external form is that of carnal desire, it is pure love or prema. The love that Rādhā feels for Kṛṣṇa is spontaneous to the extent that she does not have to hear his name, what to speak of seeing him, in order to sense him within and without at all times.”

Rādha’s love is self-manifesting (svataḥ siddhaḥ); it does not arise from any other source. Thus Rādhā and the gopīs have an unconstrained, unlimited craving to experience Kṛṣṇa’s bodily beauty and fragrance, the sound of his voice and flute, the taste of his lips and the feeling of his embrace—all for his enjoyment alone! Thus the meaning of samarthā rati and sambhogecchā-mayī kāma-rūpā bhakti is the intense desire for union of their every limb with his for his satisfaction.


The descriptions of samarthā rati are lengthier than for the other two, and somewhat more difficult to understand. For this reason, the commentaries are also lengthier. Here is the relevant section from the UN.

kaṁcid viśeṣam āyantyā sambhogecchā yayābhitaḥ |
ratyā tādātmyam āpannā sā samartheti bhaṇyate ||52||
sva-svarūpāt tadīyād vā jātā yat-kiṁcid-anvayāt |
samarthā sarva-vismāri-gandhā sāndratamā matā ||53||
Now for the explanation of samarthā rati: When love reaches a particular special quality in which it attains an identity with the desire for sexual union, then it is called samarthā, or "competent." Produced either from the nāyikā’s innate nature or from that of the nāyaka, with only a slight temporal disparity, even a whiff of this samarthā rati has the ability to make one forget everything. It is therefore considered to be the most intense [of the three kinds of rati].
Here Jiva Goswami makes the familiar distinction which we all know very well. He says there are two kinds of desire for sexual union, one that is self-directed, the other which is directed to the pleasure of the love object.

The first example is now given, Rupa Goswami's own verse:

prekṣyāśeṣe jagati madhurāṁ svāṁ vadhūṁ śaṅkayā te
tasyāḥ pārśve gurubhir abhitas tvat-prasaṅgo nyavāri |
śrutvā dūre tad api bhavataḥ sā tulā-koṭi-nādaṁ
hā kṛṣṇety aśruta-caram api vyāharanty unmadāsīt ||54||
[O Krishna!] When they saw the new bride possessed of a sweet beauty incomparable anywhere in the entire universe, her in-laws become worried that she would become attracted to you and so forbade anyone to talk of you in her presence. But even so, when she heard the sound of your ankle bells from a distance, she began to call out your name -- though she had never even heard it before! -- becoming completely intoxicated.
sarvādbhuta-vilāsormi-camatkāra-kara-śriyaḥ |
sambhogecchā-viśeṣo’syā rater jātu na bhidyate |
ity asyāṁ kṛṣṇa-saukhyārtham eva kevalam udyamaḥ ||55||
pūrvasyāṁ sva-sukhāyāpi kadācit tatra sambhavet ||56||
iyam eva ratiḥ prauḍhā mahābhāva-daśāṁ vrajet |
yā mṛgyā syād vimuktānāṁ bhaktānāṁ ca varīyasām ||57||
A particular quality of sex desire is never separated from this kind of love, which possesses an astonishing beauty, filled with waves of all-astonishing playful manifestations. As such all efforts [conducted in this rati] are performed exclusively for Krishna's pleasure, whereas in the prior rati it is possible that occasionally some are done for their own pleasure. When this rati becomes fully mature it reaches as far as the state of mahābhāva, which is sought after by the liberated souls as well as the greatest of devotees.
etāḥ paraṁ tanu-bhṛto bhuvi gopa-vadhvo
govinda eva nikhilātmani rūḍha-bhāvāḥ |
vāñchanti yad bhava-bhiyo munayo vayaṁ ca
kiṁ brahma-janmabhir ananta-kathārasasya ||58||
These cowherd women have justified their human bodies on this earth, for they have achieved the most elevated feelings of love for Govinda, the soul of the unlimited creation. This is something that is wished for by the saints who fear material existence and by ourselves, as well. Oh! What is the need for a life even as long as that of Brahmā for one who is immersed in the infinite joys of hearing about the Lord? [SB 10.47.58]

There is clearly far too much to be said about this rati, except that in order to make sense of it, we need to understand it as a human phenomenon and consider that all the interdictions and warnings are pointless, except as confirmation by negative means that these indeed are manuṣī līlā, bhajate tādṛśīṁ krīḍām and all that. So let us leave this raw material here for today and we will return for a meditation on it at some later time.


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