The Gopis vs. The Wives of the Brahmins

Today someone, after reading the following article, Raganuga bhakti and sahaja sadhana (Part I),  presented the familiar argument on FB"Don't you have to be at the stage of anartha-nivṛtti to begin the raganuga path?"

I answered, "How many lifetimes of anartha-nivṛtti do you think it takes to get to where you just like hearing about Radha and Krishna? So, if you like it, you are ready. And you are really ready if someone like your guru says 'don't,' and you do it anyway. Or if someone tells you that you must wait, you say, 'can't'. Then you are ready, nothing else counts. And if you fail (i.e., lose interest), what was the loss?"

This was responded to with the customary protestations: how can one possibly ignore the orders of the spiritual master? There are of course numerous examples of individuals such as Bali who rejected their guru's orders when it went against a higher principle. So in the same spirit as in another recent article, On Fences Around the Devotional Creeper, I would like to draw attention to the glories of the gopis in achieving the highest glories of devotional achievement by abandoning the obstacles arising from their own gurus and even those coming from Krishna himself.

In particular, I think it is interesting to compare two sections of the BhP, namely the chapters dealing with the Yajñapatnīs and the first chapter of the Rāsa-līlā  The following is just some notes that were on my computer. The research here is preliminary rather than thorough. I don't know if I ever published this on line before. These date from around 2005.

From Vaishnav songs website.

There are numerous parallels between 10.23 and 10.29, far too numerous to be accidental. The author of BhP appears to be deliberately contrasting the two situations and clearly using the contrast to illustrate the superiority of the gopis to the Yajñapatnīs. After all, there are no verses by Uddhava in glorification of the latter. The gopis indeed sacrificed everything; the Yajñapatnīs were glorious, but like Lakshmi, did not get to join the Rasa-lila. Just as the wives are being contrasted with their husbands, they themselves are being contrasted with the gopis.

Unfortunately the commentaries do not work this point through in any great detail. Here are a few points of similarity and contrast. Most of the similarity is in the language itself, so may not be so clear to the non-Sanskritist.

(1) The formality of the request. Krishna sends cowherd boys as intermediary to request a gift of food. (That is the extent of his request.) This contrasts with the spontaneity and immediacy of the flute in 10.29.

(2) The Yajñapatnīs nevertheless do have a spirit of madhura-bhava. They are described as going on abhisāra and the same example of rivers going to [their husband] the ocean is not given as descriptive of the gopis, but the trope is one that is found frequently, for instance in Gopāla-campu, it is extensively elaborated on. (Verse 10.23.19, abhisasruḥ priyaṁ sarvāḥ samudram iva nimnagāḥ).

(3) They are stopped by their husbands, brothers, and sons. (10.23.20, parallel 10.29.8)

(4) Seeing Krishna 10.23.21-23. Krishna is not alone, but with friends. Nevertheless, some similarities in language. 10.32.8-9 = 10.23.23. “Brought Krishna into their hearts with their eyes and embraced him there, ridding their hearts of all the pain of separation.”

(5) 10.23.24. Krishna smiles and greets them who are tyakta-sarvāśāḥ. (10.29.17)

(6) 10.23.25 Language almost exactly = 10.29.18 svāgataṁ vo mahābhāgā. karavāma kiṁ. "Welcome fortunate women! What can I do for you?" He does not have the dangers of wild animals and other things about a forest in the middle of the night to joke about, but simply says, “You have come out of a desire to see me, so that is well and good.”

(7) 10.23.26-27 has many overtones of the gopis’ speech in 10.29. E.g. 10.23.26 (kurvanti kuśalāḥ svārtha-darśanāḥ… ātma-priye) = 10.29.33 (kurvanti hi tvayi ratiṁ kuśalā sva ātman nitya-priye). The use of ahaitukī and avyavahitā to describe their bhakti is reminiscent of earlier passages in the Bhagavatam 1.2.6, 1.7.10 and 3.29.12, which is a base definition of bhakti. If the Yajñapatnīs exemplify such devotion, why can he not accept them?

According to some commentaries (Srinath Chakravarti, Brihat-krama-sandarbha) Krishna here is already saying, "I cannot reciprocate with you. You will have to be satisfied with your mental embraces." He does not give a specific reason.

(8) Verse 27. The argument we have already encountered several times— "Because of my presence in them, your husbands, your possessions and even your very selves are dear to you. Therefore it is natural that you should hold me dear." This is the gopis' argument to Krishna in 10.29.32.

(9) Verse 28. Krishna sends them back – tad yāta = 10.29.22. Here the duty he describes for the wives is that they need to help their husbands perform their sacrifices.

(10) Verse 29. The first half of the verse is exactly the same as 10.29.31, the first line spoken by the gopis in response to Krishna. tava pāda-mūlam appears in both verses. Both verses include claims to have given up everything to come to Krishna. atilaṅghya samasta-bandhūn = santyajya sarva-viṣayān.

Here are the two verses side by side.

maivaṁ vibho’rhati gadituṁ nṛśaṁsam
santyajya sarva-viṣayaṁ tava pāda-mūlam |
prāptā vayaṁ tulasi-dāma padāvasṛṣṭaṁ
keśair nivoḍhum atilaṅghya samasta-bandhūn || 
O Lord, you cannot speak to us with such cruelty, for we have come to take shelter of you after abandoning everything we possess, ignoring all our family relations. Now that we are her, let us carry the garlands of tulasī leaves touched by your feet in our hair. [bhā.pu. 10.23.29]

maivaṁ vibho’rhati bhavān gadituṁ nṛśaṁsam
santyajya sarva-viṣayāṁs tava pāda-mūlam |
bhaktā bhajasva duravagraha mā tyajāsmān
devo yathādi-puruṣo bhajate mumukṣūn ||

O Lord, you cannot speak to us with such cruelty, for we have come to take shelter of you after abandoning everything we possess. You are so hard to capture, O Lord, but we are devoted to you, so take care of us [as you promise], just like Narayan takes care of the seekers of liberation. [bhā.pu. 10.29.31]

(11) Verse 30. Here the Yajñapatnīs change their tone a little. They say, “Our husbands and families will not take us back. We have fallen down at your feet and have nowhere else to go. So please give us refuge.” By contrast, the gopis were not worried about whether they would be taken back. Here are the verses for comparison.

gṛhṇanti no na patayaḥ pitarau sutā vā
na bhrātṛ-bandhu-suhṛdaḥ kuta eva cānye |
tasmād bhavat-prapadayoḥ patitātmanāṁ no
nānyā bhaved gatir arindama tad vidhehi || 
Our husbands will not take us back, nor our parents, nor our sons. Nor will our brothers, friends or relatives, what to speak of others. Therefore since we fallen in surrender at your feet, please, O destroyer of enemies, make it so that we never have to leave you.[bhā.pu. 10.23.30]
yat paty-apatya-suhṛdām anuvṛttir aṅga
strīṇāṁ svadharma iti dharma-vidā tvayoktam |
astv evam etad upadeśa-pade tvayīśe
preṣṭho bhavāṁs tanu-bhṛtāṁ kila bandhuḥ ||
You, being the knower of dharma, have told us about our womanly duties in serving our husbands, children and family members. All this is true, but in fact applies to you, the ultimate object of all such instructions, the Supreme Lord, the most dear of all, the closest relative of all embodied beings is you. [bhā.pu. 10.29.32]
(12) Verse 31. Krishna assures the Yajñapatnīs that their husbands will not be angry. The same word is used (abhyasūyā) as in 10.33.39 at the end of the Rāsa-līlā, where it is said that the gopis' husbands were bewildered by Krishna’s Maya and so did not envy Krishna.

(13) Verse 32. Krishna returns to a parallel with his initial speech to the gopis = 10.29.27, though perhaps this statement is even more explicit.

(14) Verse 33. They return where, once again, it is stated that their husbands and families did not find fault with them.

(15) Verse 34. One wife who had been held back left her body. = 10.29.11. Most of the commentaries, interestingly, are unclear on where she went. Vaiṣṇava-toṣaṇī (Sanatan Goswami) = Goloka ("like Putana"!), Krama-sandarbha (Jiva Goswami) = aprakaṭa-līlā; Brihat-krama-sandarbha (Jiva Goswami) = a gopi body (!) (gopāṅganānāṁ madhye bhūtvāṅga-saṅginī babhūva.)

Gopala Champu has: "If I were to accept you for my service, you who are the wives of brahmins, that would not be approved of by anyone. We must therefore await the propitious moment." [GC 1.22.34]

So there definitely appears to be an overtone of caste restriction that even Krishna is not willing to transgress, as with the Pulindas, at least in the minds of the commentators. But it appears to me that the real difference is the willingness of the brahmin women to be turned back, whereas the gopis refused to be turned away.


Satya devi dasi said…
I *really* like the comparisons that you've made here. Thank you.

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