Sakhi-bhava in Sanskrit Kavya Literature

The development of the phenomenon of Radha Krishna madhura-rasa bhakti came through the poetic tradition. Whatever the bhakti tradition and the development of Vishnu-Krishna as the worshipable deity owes to the religious culture of India, it is clear that the figure of Radharani owes more to the poetic tradition. Similarly, whatever the sources for the development of Vaishnava theology, most details of the madhura lila, including sakhī-bhāva, can be traced to developments in kavya literature. It is thus little wonder that Rupa Goswami chose to look to the poetic tradition to map out hierarchies in the understanding of bhakti theology as well.

Even though from the point of view of the devotees, the lila is completely transcendental, from the historical point of view, the lila has adopted a great many of the conventions of the Sanskrit poetic and dramatic tradition, especially where madhura rasa is concerned. This is as true for sakhi-bhava as it is for many of the other elements. To examine sakhī-bhāva, we should look at the two streams of literature, which in Sanskrit are called lakṣya-grantha (लक्ष्य) and lakṣaṇa-grantha (लक्षण), i.e. the literature of the poets and the prescriptive manuals of the poeticians.

Sakhi bhava in the prescriptive literature

In Bharata's Nāṭya-śāstra, sakhis are mentioned in the category of sahāya or elements that help in the production of rasa. Bharata's famous description of the uddīpanas for śṛṅgāra-rasa reads as follows--

ऋतुमाल्यालंकारैः प्रियजनगन्धर्वकाव्यसेवाभिः ।
उपवनगमनविहारैः शृंगाररसः समुद्भवति ॥

ṛtu-mālyālaṅkāraiḥ priyajana-gandharva-kāvya-sevābhiḥ
upavana-gamana-vihāraiḥ śṛṅgāra-rasaḥ samudbhavati

Śṛṅgāra-rasa is brought about by the season, garlands and ornaments, by the songs and poetry of dear friends, and by wandering and playing in flower gardens. (6.47)

Priya-jana here is interpreted to mean the sakhis. But the earliest role that can be identified as one played by the heroine's girlfriends is that of dūtī, or messenger. The Nāṭya-śāstra is once again the first to name the different people who filled the role of go-between. These were nearly always women, because they alone would have the facility of entering the private quarters of a home.

prativeśyā sakhī dāsī kumārī dāruśilpikā
dhātrī pākhaṇḍinī caiva dūtyās tv īkṣaṇikā tathā

Neighbors, friends, servants, unmarried young girls, artists, nurses, pākhaṇḍinīs, and fortune tellers are messengers. (Natya-shastra 23.10)

Pākhaṇḍinīs, by which Buddhist or Jain nuns are probably meant, are later identified by the term pravrajikā, and of course that will become Paurnamasi in Krishna's Vraja-lila. The messenger needs to have some particular good qualities in order to be an asset:

protsāhaneṣu kuśalā madhura-kathā dakṣiṇā ca kālajñā
laḍahā saṁvṛta-mantrā dūtīty ebhir guṇaiḥ kāryā

The duti needs the following qualities to do her service: she has to be persuasive, have mastery of sweet speech, be ready to follow orders, a good judge of time and circumstance, capable of giving good advice, enthusiastic. (23.11)
These are more or less repeated in the Sāhitya-darpaṇa,

kalā-kauśalam utsāho bhaktiś cittajñatā smṛtiḥ
mādhuryaṁ narma-vijñānaṁ vāgmitā ceti tad-guṇā

The qualities of the duti are expertise in the loving arts, enthusiasm, devotion, good psychologist, good memory, sweetness of personality, clever at making jokes, eloquent. (SD 3.129)
Of these qualities, the most important is her devotion to her svāminī. If she does not have this devotion and loyalty to her mistress, then she will not be trustworthy and may well try to seduce the lover herself. There are many instances of such dishonest messengers in the literature. For instance, the Sāhitya-darpaṇa gives the following example:

niḥśeṣa-cyuta-candanaṁ stana-taṭaṁ nirmṛṣṭa-rāgodharo
netre dūram anañjane pulakitā tanvī taveyaṁ tanum
mithyā-vādini dūti bāndhava-janasyājñāta-pīḍāgame
vāpīṁ snātum ito gatāsi na punas tasyādhamasyāntikam

The sandalwood on your breasts has disappeared, the rouge on your lips is smeared. The mascara has been washed away from your eyes, and your entire body is shivering all over. O duti, you are a liar! Not knowing the suffering that had befallen me, your friend, you went to the tank to take a bath instead of going to [bring a message to] my rascal lover. (SD 2.23f)
In this verse, the nāyikā sees that her duti is untrustworthy, but does not recognize the extent of her treachery. So it is clear that the best messenger would be a truly trusted friend, who has the welfare of the nāyikā in her heart and not her own self-interest. Moreover, the sakhi, being of the same age as the nāyikā, understands her mind. As a result, she does not engage in message carrying alone, but in all varieties of service connected to the sringar rasa. Even though she is of the same age, she must be clever and have a good understanding of how love affairs work. Thus, for instance, in the Sāhitya-darpaṇa, we find the following verse in which the sakhi describes how the nāyikā is suffering in the separation of the pūrva-rāga --

śvāsān muñcati bhūtale viluṭhati tvan-mārgam ālokate
dīrghaṁ roditi vikṣipaty ata itaḥ kṣāmāṁ bhujā-vallarīm
kiṁ ca prāṇa-samāna kāṅkṣitavatī svapne'pi te saṅgamaṁ
nidrāṁ vāñchati na prayacchati punar dagdho vidhis tām api

She is breathing heavily, lying down on the ground, looking out on the path by which you may come; she cries for long periods of time, she flings her withering arms this way and that. What is more, though she desires to be united with you, who are equal to her life airs themselves, in her dreams, Fate is so cruel that it will not allow her to sleep. (3.126f)
On the other hand, the sakhi may sometimes stop the nāyaka or nāyikā from seeing each other. She will tell her nāyikā where, when and how she can go and be with her lover. These kinds of verses are usually labelled sakhī-śikṣā. The mugdhā nāyikā is often one who has not received proper instruction from her friend, and thus does not know how to deal with a wayward lover. The following is a good example from Amaru-śataka--

sā patyuḥ prathamāparādha-samaye sakhyopadeśaṁ vinā
no jānāti sa-vibhramāṅga-valanā-vakrokti-saṁsūcanam
svacchair accha-kapola-mūla-galitaiḥ paryasta-netrotpalā
bālā kevalam eva roditi luṭhal-lolālakair aśrubhiḥ

It was her husband's first offense, but without the help of her sakhi's instructions, she does not have any idea of what biting remarks to make or how to shake her head in anger. And so, instead, her lotus eyes filled with clear, round tears that rolled down and dropped from he cheeks and wet the hair that covered her face. All she could do was cry. (Amaru 29)
Besides this important role of advisor to the nāyikā, the sakhi also has a degree of intimacy with her that means there are no secrets between them. So, in the nāyikā's union and separation, she always plays a significant role.


Vraja said…
Yes it is very pretty. We can look at the writings of the goswamis and other gaudiya acaryas when they write about rasa topics, going back to Jayadeva, they all have in common the poetic prettiness of their descriptions. There is a stagey quality to that type of writing, yours as well since you use their writings as a template of sorts to great extent.

But is it all real? Are those types of descriptions reality or do they serve some purpose other then giving a realistic glimpse of actual intimate rasa lila?

One thing about those types of poetic pretty stagey descriptions of rasa lila is that they certainly are highly ethereal and stylized poetic portrayels.

What you will find when you meet God is something very different then what is described in the poetic stylized ethereal writings on rasa lila. You will meet someone who is earthy and uninhibited, down to earth, and not at all like what is described in those writings. That is what I meant when I said that what you wrote is pretty, but not connected to reality.

To illustrate we can take the example of a sports writer who writes eloquent ethereal philosophical and poetic descriptions of football. Then we can contrast that with the actual game of football which is of a very different character then the way that writer chose to describe it. The writer was trying to elicit emotions within his audience by using poetic license in his descriptions because simply telling the brute reality of football as it really is may not create the same emotional attachment to the game for an audience of non fans of the game whose whose only connection to the game is vicariously experienced trough observation.

Likewise the self realized acaryas of the past used poetic license in their descriptions of rasa lila to achieve an emotional attachment in their audience. But in reality Radha Krsna and the relationship that she/he desires and has with real people is of a very different character then the poeticized renditions of that reality suggest. Those poeticized renditions are meant for a mass audience, to try and touch as wide a range of mentalities as possible, to those whose only connection to that higher reality is vicarious, it is meant as a device to engender emotional attachment, to get as many people as possible to aspire for that higher reality.

To give you some idea of what I mean, in reality, Sri Radha is really like comedian Sarah Silverman (go to youtube for clips) rather then the super refined ethereal being told about in rasa sastra. But Sarah Silverman's down to earth comedic raciness will not attract all types of people. Uptight people wil be offended by her. So it is with God as well. The descriptions of God in rasa sastra are calculated to be the least offensive and the most wide ranging in attractiveness for conditioned souls. But they bear practically no relation to what God is really like and what a relationship with God is really like, other then giving some idea about different types of love that can be experienced.
Anonymous said…
"It is commonly assumed that the nature of spirituality is not only fundamentally different from ordinary experience, but that this difference is vastly superior. From this it is concluded that the tests of truth or meaning used for ordinary experience are not relevant for the so-called higher truths that guru and religions offer. This age-old separation of the spiritual from the worldly is deeply embedded in all of civilization. We view this split as tragic, and at the core of the fragmentation prevalent in the contemporary human psyche. The inner battle between the presumed higher and lower (or good and bad) parts of oneself often binds people with conflict by making them unable to accept themselves as whole human beings."
(The Guru Papers; masks of authoritarian power by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad)

Jagat, do you agree ?

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