Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Introduction to Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana and Dāna-līlā

A project I would like to finish is my translation and commentary on Dāna-keli-kaumudī. I have been interested in the the origins of the dāna-līlā theme for a long time and would like to highlight the differences between the different approaches to it, as well as trying to understand what it all means...

Sanatan Goswami most significantly mentions the Dāna-khaṇḍa and Nauka-khaṇḍa as the original contribution of Chandi Das, but works of this name by this author were nowhere to be seen until Basanta Ranjan Ray Vidvadballabh discovered and published Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana (SKK) in 1914.

Though some, including the very reputable Biman Bihari Majumdar (Caṇḍī-dāsera Padāvalī, Kolkata, Bangla Sahitya Parishad, 1961, pages 53ff), are certain that the book belongs to the post-Chaitanya period, we will accept the still prevailing wisdom, primarily on the basis of Sanatan Goswami's testimony.

But it is also significant that Chandi Das, despite being mentioned so frequently in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta and being an iconic figure in Bengal as a songwriter, was practically forgotten until manuscripts started being discovered and restored in the late 19th century.

We still do not really know the date of Boru Chandi Das's work, nor has the mystery of the various Chandi Das's been incontrovertibly resolved. The first and last pages of the only manuscript of SKK in existence are missing, leaving the title of the work itself in dispute. But Basanta Ranjan Ray, the discoverer of the SKK, and those who studied it -- which includes many of the greatest names in the academic study of Bengali in the 20th century -- Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyaya, Sukumar Sen, Haraprasad Shastri, to name just a few, all place it in the pre-Chaitanya period, though they differ in their opinions to some extent.

Rakhal Das Bandyopadhyaya, a paleographist, dated the manuscript to the late 14th-early 15th centuries, which would place it a century before Mahaprabhu's time.

This is the second or third time I have gone through the book, which immediately strikes one as distinct in tone from the writing that follows the Chaitanya era and the Goswami literature. Sushil Kumar De made a big issue of Rupa Goswami's putting clever Sanskrit puns in the mouths of the gopis, which stands in radical distinction from Boru Chandi Das's language. Though some of the familiar Indian literary tropes are present there, the overall mood is quite rustic -- Krishna and Radha really do strike one as simple country folk.

There are 415 extant songs in the SKK, and about a quarter of them are in the Dāna-khaṇḍa section, which testifies to the popularity of this particular pālā. I will explore the them of the dāna-līlā over the next few days, with reference first to SKK and then to the various other works that use the theme before turning to Dāna-keli-kaumudī itself.

I have been using two editions of Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana : One is the original Bangla Sahitya Parishad edition, updated and revised and in its 11th edition (2005). The other is Amitra Sudan Bhattacharya’s edition, which has also gone through multiple editions (9th edition, Kolkata : De’s Publishing, 2002), first coming out in 1963.

The two editions are complementary. First it might be good to acknowledge the quality of the Bangla Sahitya Parishad edition. Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana has been required reading for people seeking an M.A. in Bengali for almost a century now and has been studied to death, as it were.

The notes in the back of the BSP edition are copious and every word is annotated and cross-referenced with other works of the period. Word forms from other contemporary and modern Indian languages are compared and contrasted—sometimes almost to excess. Nevertheless, most of the linguistic problems have been resolved. The only thing that could improve it would be to have the tikas on the same page so you wouldn't have to turn to the back of the book constantly. Also, comments of a strictly linguistic nature could perhaps be separated from those dealing with matters of comparative mythology and other literary observations.

Bhattacharya’s edition is a good supplement, providing a little more context and commentary, adding more vocabulary notes and of course a very informative 180-page introduction and analysis of various aspects of the poem.

One of the greatest disappointments in reading SKK comes from the loss of many leaves of the original manuscript. In particular, one regrets the loss of the first and last pages, which are usually the most informative about a text – the title, the author’s colophon, introduction, opening prayers, maybe even a date, if not of the original composition, then at least of the copyist’s work, etc.

Almost as frustrtating is the lost of other pages interspersed here and there, likely filched by someone too lazy to copy some song he wanted to learn. You might be reading along, wondering what will happen next when you find that the next folio is lost--meaning a gap of about six or seven songs. Besides completely destroying the continuity, who knows what important clues about what unknown things lay on those pages? Or what exceptional poetic gems were found there?

Despite this, the SKK is invaluable as a source of information about a particular state of knowledge about Radha and Krishna, which was popular enough to have been recognized by Sanatan Goswami as a valid and likely original source of information about the līlā.

Even though an important part of our investigation as we go through this and other accounts of the dāna-līlā is to point out the differences between Rupa Goswami’s approach and that of Chandi Das and others who come between the two, we also have to recognize the great significance of Chandi Das’s contribution to the mood of Radha-Krishna līlā that Rupa and his followers built upon. As such, it is a classical case of folk culture invigorating and inspiring a more sophisticated and cultured approach.


Anonymous said...

Hey Jagatji, Radhe-Radhe,

I have a friend, who is now in Vrindavana, but on the way to Hsikesa. Are you still in the Ashram over there? If so what is the address?


Jagat said...

Swami Rama Sadhaka Gram
Birbhadra Road, Birpur Khurd,
(Bairaj) Rishikesh.

My number is 989-725-9206

halley said...

namaskar jagat ji .

do you have any idea where this only manuscript is preserved now ? asiatic society ?

also i have been thinking to et myself a copy of SKK and dont really know which one would be a best read . sukumar sen probably has a book . or is it sunitikumar ?

can you suggest anything ?

Jagat said...

I would assume the MS is kept at Banga Sahitya Parishad. There are two printed editions, you can get one at BSP and the other is at Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, I believe.