Friday, August 21, 2015

Keeping Faith with Kheturi, Part III

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV


Here is some more from Chakravarti’s summary of the Kheturi preparation. This is not a pure quote as I have cut or edited here and there. I have highlighted a few points to comment on:
The big Vaishnava festival was held in Kheturi for several reasons. It would have been relatively easy for the Vaishnavas of East and North Bengal to attend the festival if it was held in Kheturi. The planners of the festival certainly attached some importance to the prospect of a necessary liaison with them. It was really necessary for the leaders of the Chaitanya movement to build up bases in North Bengal and East Bengal. It was expected that the festival would serve the purpose of an assault on the locally prominent Shakta cult. In Narottama-vilāsa there is a vivid description of the barbarous behavior of the local Tantrikas. They immolated human beings on the altar of the goddess, raped virgins and created a reign of terror.

Fifty messengers were sent to different parts of Bengal. Innumerable letters of invitation were despatched. Raja Santosh Datta built many cottages for the accommodation of the guests, made arrangements for their safe transportation across the broad expanse of the Padma River, and stored provisions for them. The devout Raja and his men labored very hard to make the festival a grand success.
A huge number of Vaishnavas attended the festival, representing all the major groups. Lists of their names can be found in no less than three different books: Prema-vilāsa, Narottama-vilāsa, and Bhakti-ratnākara. (See the end of this document.)
Almost all of the Mahantas who had attended the earlier festivals in Katwa and Srikhanda participated in the Kheturi festival. For some unstated reasons Virabhadra did not attend, but his son Jagaddurlabha did. Only two Gopalas, or possibly three, attended. The other Gopalas were either no more when the festival was held, or unwilling to attend it.

The Kheturi festival was held with a view to propagating the Vrindavan dogma. But Vrindavan is not known to have sent to it any delegate. Only three important Vaishnavas of East Bengal were invited to attend the festival. They were Purushottam Nagara, 'wood-cutter' Jagannatha, and Pushpagopal.

The following programme was adopted for the festival :

  1. Installation of the stone images of Chaitanya, Vallabhikanta, Vrajamohana, Sri Krishna, Radhakanta and Radhamohan.
  2. Singing of kirtan.
  3. Observation of Chaitanya's birthday and Holi.
  4. Holding of community feasts.
  5. Finalization of the arrangements for the year-long recitation of the Bhāgavatam, Caitanya-bhāgavata and Caitanya-maṅgala
Kheturi was selected as the permanent venue of annual Vaishnava gatherings and festivals. In Kheturi the Vrindavan dogma was finally accepted as the unalterable Gaudiya Vaishnava creed. Chaitanya was indeed worshiped as a God. But the significant point was that Nityananda and Adwaita were consigned to the limbo. Chaitanya and Krishna were worshipped "according to the rituals delineated in the works of Rupa Goswami," using the twin-mantra (yugala-mantra) of Radha-Krishna, and with the recitation of the ten syllables of the Gopala mantra. 
śrī rādhāra-bhāve magna śrī-gaurāṅga-candra
sei bhāvera gīta gāyā pāiyā ānanda
śrī kṛṣṇera janma-yātrā vidhi anusāre
pūjaye gaurāṅga-cānd hariṣa antare
kṛṣṇa gaura eka ebe bheda buddhi jāra
se jāya narake tāra nāhika nistāra 
 
The Kheturi congregation recognised the validity of two theories. The first was the theory of the embodiment of Radha Krishna conjugality in Chaitanya. The second theory was that of Krishna's incarnation as Chaitanya. Chaitanya’s birthday was observed as Krishna's birthday. Anybody who tried to distinguish between the identities of Krishna and Chaitanya was loaded with a terrible curse. The smaraṇa-maṅgala formula was followed during the worship of the deities. The proceedings noted above were followed by a nightlong debate, the details of which are not stated.

The first Kheturi festival created a trend in kirtan music which was known as the Garanhati or Garerhati mode of kirtan. The Garerhati style, named after the Pargana Garerhat, to which Kheturi belonged, was the kirtan approximation of the classical Dhruvapada of North Indian music. The most significant feature of the style was the Gaura-chandrika. The kirtan on the sports of Krishna was prefaced by singing of songs on the lila of Gauranga in Nabadwip. Gaura-chandrika and Chaitanya worship in Kheturi signified a realistic attitude of the Vrindavan goswamis and their Bengali supporters towards the deification of Chaitanya in Bengal. 
 
But the problem was created by the smaraṇa-maṅgala time-schedule. The time-schedule prescribed for the sports of Krishna could not be easily adopted for those of Gauranga in Nabadwip. The problem was solved by Duhkhi Krishnadasa Babaji. The Gaura-chandrika possibly signified a concession to the Gaura-nagara Vaishnavas or the Gaura-paramya theologians who believed in the primacy of Chaitanya. But the so-called "Gadai-Gauranga" subsect remained unhonored, because the theory of Radha Krishna conjugality in Chaitanya militated against the idea that Gadadhara Pandit was the incarnation of Radha.  
The stupendous labor of Jahnava Devi, Srinivasa Acharya and Narottama Datta ultimately resulted in the dominance of the Vrindavan versions over the prevalent mystic and deviant ideas. This development certainly made the Chaitanya movement in Bengal cohesive and disciplined. But bhakti became self-centered to a considerable extent. It gradually lost its collective characteristics.  
After the Kheturi festival bhakti became deeply rooted in what a foreign student of Indian culture describes as "dependent psychology." That there was possibly a connection between the development of this psychology and the leadership of the aristocratic elements in the Vaishnava movement in Bengal may be stated as a cliché. But it is very difficult to identify the exact methods adopted by the Vaishnava leaders to plug the collective effusion of bhakti which was perhaps the most prominent feature of the religious movement launched by Chaitanya in Nabadwip. (R.K. Chakravarti, Vaishnavism in Bengal, 231-238)
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Though I can agree almost entirely with the above assessment of what transpired at Kheturi, and the account could certainly be embellished with colourful references to the original accounts, there are some things that need to be said, in particular by way of reference to the Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā, which as I have said, would have played a significant role at the Kheturi festival, at which Karnapur was no doubt among the most highly venerated guests. Karnapur’s work contains the first textual instance of the Pancha Tattva verse that was attributed to Swarup Damodar Goswami’s Kharcha. If it is indeed Swarup Damodar’s verse, it was likely brought to Bengal by Srinivas et al from Vrindavan school, or perhaps Karnapur learned of it on one of his own visits to Braj.

pañca-tattvātmakaṁ kṛṣṇaṁ bhakta-rūpa-svarūpakam
bhaktāvatāraṁ bhaktākhyaṁ namāmi bhakta-śaktikam

The very presence of so many Vaishnavas in Kheturi, from so many groups, indicates that something monumental was taking place. To say that "Nityananda and Advaita were consigned to limbo" or that "Gaura-Gadai worshipers were not honored" is a rather odd way of describing what happened. The Pancha Tattva verse fixes these Vaishnava leaders’ tattvas into a hierarchy. They cease being competitors in the fight for charismatic superiority and become cooperators in the divine mission. What the Caitanya-bhāgavata failed to do by way of exhortations to stop fighting, the Pancha Tattva mantra accomplished by giving them all their own unique stature. I have explained some of this in my article "Gadadhar Pandit: Bhakti Shakti" [Part I, Part II, Part III].

By placing everything in the context of the rasa tattva, the Pancha Tattva were seen as part of Mahaprabhu's external lila. However, when seen again in the light of the Vrindavan doctrines, they all were re-envisioned as participants in that aspect of the pastimes--Advaita as Yogamaya (through his energy, Sita Devi, who is Paurnamasi in GGD), Nityananda through Jahnava, who is Ananga Manjari, Gadadhar either directly as Radha, or as Radha experiencing sakhi-bhāva.

Furthermore, as I also showed in the Gadadhar article, the Gaura-candrikā is a huge concession to the Gaura-nāgaras, as most of those padas approach Radha-Krishna lila through the Gaura-nāgara route, rather than through the sannyāsi-Gaura route. Nabadwip and not Puri is the scene of Gaura's nitya-lilā. So how R.K. Chakravarti can say that the Gaura-Gadai worshipers were shunned is not clear. After all, Srinivasa was a next-door neighbor to Srikhanda; how could he have escaped their influence? Ramachandra Kaviraj, Narottam's best friend, and his brother Govinda were both Khandavasis. Caitanya-maṅgala was read at Kheturi, so where were the Gadai-Gaura worshipers neglected? It is just that a place was found for them in a coordinated, persuasive ontological scheme.

Just as important, however, was the place given to Mahaprabhu's other associates--Gaura-bhakta-vrinda. Whereas their personal claims to charisma had been neglected in the big competition between the Big Two or Three, they were now all given recognition. Anyone who had associated with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, for even a second, was recognized as glorious. gaurāṅgera saṅgi-gaṇe nitya-siddha kori māne. It is no accident that this line comes from a song by Narottam Das. This, more than anything else, established the method by which Gaudiya Vaishnavas identified their connection to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu--via an organic relationship through his associates.

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