The Five Essential Verses of Gita Govinda (Verse 1)


Krishna, the Embodiment of the Erotic Rasa

viśveṣām anurañjanena janayann ānandam indīvara-
śreṇī-śyāmala-komalair upanayann aṅgair anaṅgotsavam |
svacchandaṁ vraja-sundarībhir abhitaḥ praty-aṅgam āliṅgitaḥ
śṛṅgāraḥ sakhi mūrtimān iva madhau mugdho hariḥ krīḍati ||
By his pleasure giving, he brings joy to all the worlds;
With his limbs, as soft and dark as blue lotus flowers,
he inaugurates the festival of love.
O friend Radhe! Hari frolicks in the spring,
like the embodiment of śṛṅgāra-rasa;
completely enchanted by the beauties of Braja,
who surround him and wantonly embrace his every limb.
Our first "essential" verse is GG 1.48, which as already stated above, is pivotal in the introduction both to the Gīta-govinda and to Rupa Goswami's treatment of the madhura-rasa. In GG, it comes after the scene has been set for the story by describing the springtime (prabandha 3) and the rāsa dance as performed in the spring (prabandha 4). The first two songs of GG form a maṅgalācaraṇa which, as the commentator Chaitanya Das indicates, already shows a hierarchy of rasas. Each of the ten avatāras, according to him, represents a different rasa (prabandha 1) , while the second song (śrita-kamalā-kuca-maṇḍala) gives a description of Krishna as the form of God that is appropriate for the erotic mood. Thus there is a progressive development in the first chapter of GG, establishing Krishna as the source of all divine incarnations, with different forms appropriate to different devotional moods and culminating in this verse, which could thus be considered a summary or direct statement of all that has preceded it, in particular, song 4.

Now what is important about this verse? It is quoted twice in two important chapters in the CC (1.4 and 2.8 ), so that signals something. And it appears as the first verse Rupa Goswami quotes in his preliminary discourse on madhura-rasa in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. It also occupies a pivotal position in the GG, being the verse that summarizes the scene-setting first act of that book.

Since the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu is about bhakti-rasa, Krishna is always the viṣaya of each rasa, but there are subtle distinctions in Krishna's personality according to the rasa. So this verse is given as the example of Krishna, the viṣaya, the object of love in madhura or śṛṅgāra-rasa. So it is no accident that this verse was selected, because here it is said directly that Krishna IS śṛṅgāra-rasa. Even though it is used in the form of a simile, the result is the same. Krishna embodies or incarnates the erotic mood.

Since Rupa Goswami is following the classical sequence of discussing rasa in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, in every one of the five chapters (3.1-5) dealing with the principal love relationships (neutral, service, friendship, guardianship and erotic love) he begins with a description of the viṣayālambanam, the object of love, i.e., the form that Krishna takes as the object of love in those moods. For example, in parental love relationships, he appears as a child. For the erotic mood, Rupa Goswami selects Jayadeva's description of Krishna at the beginning of the Gīta-govinda as exemplary.

The image is that of Krishna exuding joy and love, and spreading that joy, that festival of erotic pleasure, to every corner of the universe. And the most fortunate of the souls of the universe are blessed to "wantonly" take hold of a limb, whatever they can clutch in their fierce attraction to this cynosure of all creation, the all-attractive and most alpha male there ever was.

Mukunda says that the adjectives describing Krishna here indicate the unparalleled opulence of his expertise in romantic affairs (vaidagdhya), his beauty (saundarya) and his dalliances (līlā). Vishwanath Chakravarti points out that Krishna's being bewildered (mugdha) here is an indication that there is not a hint of his being God in this scene. Vishwanath, living 150 years after Rupa Goswami, has assimilated Rupa's philosophy as orthodoxy, but we are going to examine his assumption. As always, the paradox of God in human form is front and center.

On one level, this verse is key because it identifies Krishna with the śṛṅgāra-rasa, or the taste of erotic love itself. We all know that the Upanishads say, raso vai saḥ, yaṁ hy evāyaṁ labdhvānandī bhavati. This goes a bit further and tells us that he is the rasa-rāja.

puṁsaḥ striyāḥ puṁsi sambhogaṁ prati yā spṛhā |
sā śṛṅgāra iti prokto rati-krīḍādi-kāraṇam ||
The desire of a man for sexual enjoyment with a woman, and a woman for a man is called śṛṅgāra. It is the cause of sexual activity. (unknown source, quoted in Prabodhananda's commentary)
Externally, of course, The color of śṛṅgāra is blue. śyāmo bhavati śṛṅgāraḥ sito hāsaḥ prakīrtitaḥ (Nāṭya-śāstra, 6.42, see also BRS 2.5.118). Now what does that mean? Prabodhananda Saraswati is the only one who attempts to explain it.
By creating mutual attraction or love (anurañjana) between girls and boys, this rasa brings joy to all people in the universe (viśveṣāṁ prāṇinām ānandaṁ janayan). By its limbs (aṅgaiḥ), in other words all those elements of the rasa, particularly the in other words all those elements of the rasa such as sidelong glances, etc., and the secondary emotions (sañcāri) it creates a festival of erotic love. Not only these elements, but also the vibhāvas are mentioned in the verse refered to as the gopis who embrace or take shelter (āśraya) of each of these limbs; some some bring the uddīpanas such as tāmbūla, garlands and sandal paste, etc., others anubhāvas like smiles and sidelong glances, others the sañcāri-bhāvas, others the sāttvika, i.e., taking shelter of the different limbs of śṛṅgāra-rasa.

Though the Gīta-govinda clearly describes its events as taking place in the springtime (vasanta, Cf. prabandhas 3-4), classically the more appropriate time for romance, Jayadeva starts with a description of Krishna that roughly matches the one given in the autumn śāradīya-rāsa, i.e., the Krishna of the Bhāgavata rāsa-līlā. This is the Krishna who symbolizes God as the enchanting flute player, the all-attractive one who emits the śabda brahman through his flute and touches the hearts in which the seed of devotion has been planted and drives everyone mad with attraction for him, represented by the gopis, plucking them out of the world of dharma and bringing them to his side.

So the question that immediately presents itself is, Why did Rupa Goswami choose a verse from GG rather than BhP? As we will show through the other verses in this analysis, Rupa Goswami is presenting the BhP Krishna as a kind of starting point in this verse, just as Jayadeva himself is. This Krishna is engaged in the erotic mood: it is sweet (madhura), but the elements of divinity (aiśvarya) still dominate. It is one Krishna at the center of all being, the object of love, being loved and being lovable, while emitting an equal love towards all. And this sets the stage for Radha to display her powers over Krishna.

So the point of this verse is to say that the Bhāgavatam rāsa-līlā is our pūrva-pakṣa. This Krishna is God, the all-attractive, but he needs to understand the limitations of his divinity, and that, in essence, is the story of the GG. Radha is going to do that. Nobody brings Krishna down a notch in the Bhāgavatam, even Radharani's māna in separation in the Bhramara-gīta shows us her frustration, but not Krishna's being affected by it other than as sympathy for her feelings of separation.

Let us now take a look at the second verse.

Verse 1: Krishna, the Embodiment of the Erotic Rasa
Verse 2: Krishna, the Lover of Radha
Verse 3: Radharani's māna
Verse 4: Radha, the empress of love.
Verse 5: Rasa-niṣpatti.


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