Rūpa Gosvāmī's Dūta Kāvyas: (1) Sources of Rupa Goswami's Authority

This is from my Introduction to Mystic Poetry, a translation of Rupa Goswami's dūta-kāvyas.



The contributions of Rūpa Gosvāmī (d. 1568 AD) to the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava sampradāya are manifold. Narottama dāsa's famous invocatory prayer to Rūpa in his Prema-bhakti-candrikā tells us that Rūpa understood Caitanya Mahāprabhu's mission and was successful in establishing it on this earth (śrī-caitanya-manobhiṣṭam sthāpitaṁ yena bhūtale). In his Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja writes in several places that Rūpa Gosvāmī was granted access to Mahāprabhu‘s innermost emotional state.


The event that confirmed this special status took place when Rūpa was residing in Purī, probably in AD 1517. That year, during the Ratha-yātrā festival, Rūpa was amongst the many devotees of Mahāprabhu who watched him as he stood before Jagannātha's chariot, gazing in the mood of Rādhā upon the Lord of the Universe. At that time, Mahāprabhu began to recite a verse from the Kāvya-prakāśa, which, though superficially having nothing to do with Kṛṣṇa, put him into a divine trance and made him dance ecstatically.


That verse, much discussed in the literature of the poeticians, was as follows:

yaḥ kaumāra-haraḥ sa eva hi varas tā eva caitra-kṣapās

te commilita-mālatī-sarabhayah prauḍhāh kadambānilāḥ

sā caivāsmi tathāpi latra surata-vyāpāra-līlā-vidhau

reva-rodhasi velasī-taru-tale cetaḥ samutkaṇṭhate


He who took my maidenhood is verily

he who is today my groom;

and these the same spring evenings

when the impetuous, fragrant breezes

are heavy with the scent of newly blossoming jasmine.

And I too am the same person —

yet my heart yearns for the reedbeds

by the banks of the stream

where we were initiated into

the joyful games of love. [i]


Other than Mahāprabhu's secretary, Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī, no one was able to understand the meaning of this verse in the context of the Ratha-yātrā festival. Rūpa Gosvāmī, however, had an insight into Caitanya's state of mind and later composed a verse that brought this vision out into the open. He wrote it down on a palm leaf and tucked it into the thatched roof of his cottage. On his way back from taking his bath in the sea, Mahāprabhu came by and fortuitously discovered the palm leaf. When he read the verse, he was astonished to see Rūpa's clear intuition into his innermost feelings. Rūpa's Kṛṣṇa-centered pastiche was as follows:


priyaḥ so'yaṁ kṛṣṇaḥ sahacari kurukṣetra-militas

tathāhaṁ sã rādhā tad idam ubhayoh saṅgama-sukham /

tathāpy antaḥ-khelan-madhura-muralī-pañcama-juṣe

mano me kālindī-pulina-vipināya spṛhayati //

O companion! This is the same beloved Kṛṣṇa

meeting me here in Kurukṣetra,

and I the same Rādhā;

both of us feel that same joy of meeting.

Even so, my mind hankers for the forest

by the banks of the Yamunā,

where the fifth note of his flute

reverberated sweetly within my heart. (Padāvalī, 383)[ii]


When Rūpa returned from bathing, Mahāprabhu gave him an affectionate slap and said, “How did you know what was in my mind?” He then embraced him tightly. The Lord subsequently took the verse and showed it to his secretary, Svarūpa Dāmodara, asking him, as was his wont, to examine it for any possible faults. He asked him the same question he had asked of Rūpa. Svarūpa answered, “It could only be as the result of your special benediction.” [iii]


Mahāprabhu's companions appreciate Rūpa's poetic talent


Not long thereafter, Mahāprabhu heard another of Rūpa Gosvāmī's verses, this time a glorification of the Holy Name from the play Vidagdha-mādhava, the composition of which Rüpa had recently undertaken.


tuṇḍe tāṇḍavinī ratiṁ vitanute tuṇḍāvalī-labdhaye

karṇa-kroḍa kaḍambinī ghaṭayate karṇārbudebhyaḥ spṛhâm

cetaḥ-prāṅgana-saṅginī vijayate sarvendriyānāṁ kṛtiṁ

no jāne janito kiyadbhir amṛtaih kṛṣṇeti varṇa-dvayī

As they dance madly on my tongue,

they awaken in me the desire

to possess a host of tongues;

As they sprout in my ears,

they give me the hope that one day

I may have millions of ears;

and as they enter into the garden of my heart

they overcome the activities

of every one of my senses

and leave me inert !

I do not know how much ambrosia has gone

into the creation

of these two syllables

of Kṛṣṇa's name. [iv]


Now fully cognizant of Rūpa's talents, Mahāprabhu decided to display them to his entire entourage. One day, he came to Rūpa's cottage with his chief associates including Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī, Rāmānanda Rāya, and Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya, all of whom were authorities on theology as well as the poetic and devotional rasas. Svarūpa Dāmodara read the priyāḥ so'yaṁ verse quoted above to all the devotees and explained to them how, as a result of Mahāprabhu's special mercy, Rūpa had been able to understand something beyond the ken of even Brahmā and the demigods. The Lord then asked Rūpa to read the tuṇḍe tāṇḍavinī verse glorifying the Holy Name to the great delight of his devotees.


Rāmānanda Rāya, a poet and playwright himself, began discussing the subject matter of Rūpa's plays with him. He asked to hear the verse glorifying the object of his devotion which would appear at the beginning of the play. At first, Rūpa was reluctant to recite his composition in front of the Lord, as it was he who was the object of the maṅgala verse. However, when the Lord insisted that he continue, Rūpa read his verse aloud. Mahāprabhu externally expressed displeasure, saying, “Your praises are overdone. It is an exaggeration,” but the rest of the devotees were overcome with astonishment at Rūpa's poetic talent as well as his analysis of the purpose of Mahāprabhu's mission.


The verse is the second of the first act of Vidagdha-mādhava:


anarpita-carīṁ cirāt karuṇayāvatīrṇaḥ kalau

samarpayitum unnatojjvala-rasaṁ sva-bhakti-śrīyam

hariḥ puraṭa-sundara-dyuti-kadamba-sandīpitaḥ

  sadā hṛdaya-kandare shuratu vaḥ śacīnandanaḥ

The elevated, effulgent taste of sacred rapture

is the wealth of devotional love;

the Lord never gives it at any time;

yet, out of his mercy in this age of quarrel,

to distribute this treasure to the world,

he has become incarnate in his golden form.

The son of Śacī is like a lion;

may he dwell in the cave of your heart forever.


This verse, which Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī has included in the invocation of his Caitanya-caritāmṛta, is a most significant panegyric to Caitanya Mahāprabhu as it expresses devotion in terms of rasa. Though the term rasa has its source in Sanskrit literature and the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, its application to the progressive understanding of theistic mysticism and its development as a theological category was Rūpa's principal contribution. Here, he gives the credit for that contribution to Mahāprabhu himself.[v]


When Rāmānanda Rāya heard the verse and others from the Vidagdha-mādhava, he began to praise Rūpa Gosvāmī‘s talent and the blessings the Lord had given him. Rāmānanda said to Caitanya, “I wish I had a thousand tongues with which to glorify Rūpa's poetic ability. This is not merely poetry, it is a fountain of ambrosia. He has exactly followed the classical tradition in composing his play. [vi] His description of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa's love affairs is truly wonderful. My ears and mind are spinning with delight upon hearing them.” (CC Antya 1.192-4) He then quoted an ancient verse used to glorify poets. The quality of a poem lies in its ability to affect the sahṛdaya, or sympathetic audience:

kiṁ kāvyena kaves tasya

kiṁ kāṇḍena dhanuṣmataḥ

parasya hṛdaye lagnaṁ

na ghūrṇayati yac chiraḥ


What is the use of a poet's poetry and what that of a bowman's arrow

if upon piercing the heart of their target they do not cause its head to spin?”[vii]


Rāmānanda continued by confirming Svarūpa Dāmodara‘s intuition: without Mahāprabhu‘s blessings, it would be impossible for an ordinary living being to write poetry of such a high order.


Mahāprabhu's praise of Rūpa


Then it came Mahāprabhu's turn to say something. Mahāprabhu's qualifications as a judge of poetry had been established earlier in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta when it was recounted how he had pinpointed the virtues and faults in the Digvijayī Paṇḍita's poem glorifying the Ganges. There Mahāprabhu is said to have quoted a verse attributed to Bharata indicating the high standard to which poetry should be held:

rasālaṅkāravat kāvyaṁ

doşa-yuk ced vibhūṣitam

syād vapuḥ sundaram api

śvitreṇaikena durbhagam


Even a poem filled with all the appropriate sentiments and ornaments, if flawed, is comparable to a person who, though possessed of great beauty, has been deformed by white leprosy. (CC Ādi 16 71)[viii]

Thus, it is clear that when Kṛṣṇadāsa quotes Mahāprabhu's short statement summarizing the characteristic of Rūpa's poetry, it is of some significance. Mahāprabhu said:


madhura prasanna ihāra kābya sālaṁkāra

aiche kabitba binu nahe rasera pracāra

Rūpa's poetry is sweet, pleasing, and filled with literary ornaments. Without such poetry, the dissemination of [bhakti-] rasa is not possible. (CC Antya 1.198)

The rather significant place given by Mahāprabhu to poetry in the preaching of the bhakti movement is clear from this verse. It is also evident that the distribution of bhakti-rasa, or “sacred rapture,” is the goal of such preaching. But most clearly, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī uses Mahāprabhu's own words to confirm Rūpa's leadership in this literary aspect of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism.


Of course, neither literary achievement nor scholarship on their own would have been sufficient to assure Rūpa's leadership in a religious movement dominated by the spirit of renunciation exemplified by Mahāprabhu himself. Thus Kavirāja Gosvāmī makes a point of further glorifying Rūpa's achievements as a renunciate and practitioner of devotional sādhana. Both he and his brother Sanātana set unequalled standards of discipline and worship:


These brothers have no fixed residence. They spend each night beneath a different tree in the forest, one night under one tree and the next under another. Sometimes they beg dry food from a brāhmaṇa‘s house and sometimes cooked food like bread and fried chickpeas. In this way, they have given up all kinds of material enjoyments. They wrap themselves in a quilt and wear nothing else but a piece of torn cloth claiming no possession but a clay waterpot. They are engaged in rendering service to the Lord almost twenty-four hours daily by chanting the holy names of Kṛṣṇa and discussing his pastimes or dancing in great jubilation. They spend only an hour and a half in sleep, and some days, when overcome by the love of chanting the Lord's holy name, they do not sleep at all. They spend their time writing transcendental works about divine aesthetics, listening to talks about Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, or simply meditating on him (CC Madhya 19 127-31)


Rūpa acted as leader to the sampradāya in many ways: by setting the standard of practice and revealing the holy places in Vṛndāvana, by spearheading the theology based on rasa, and by revealing that rasa through the medium of his poetry. It would be hard to say whether it is Rūpa's poetic or theological talents (or not less importantly, his standards of renunciate Vaiṣṇava behavior) which won him a de facto position of leadership in Caitanya's movement, but certainly the poetry itself cannot be minimized, as evidenced by these three verses composed by Govardhan Bhatta Goswami, a descendant of Raghunath Bhatta.

piyūṣa-sāra-śiśirān api candra-pādān

dhīrān maranda-madhurāṁś ca madhoḥ samīrān /

vāñchanti ke bhuvi tathāmṛta-sindhu-pūrān

śrī-rūpa-pāda-kavitā-surasaṁ nipīya //1//

After having drunk just once
the delicious juice of Rūpa Gosvāmī's poetry,
who on this earth desires the rays of the moon,
said to bring the dewy essence of ambrosia?
And who would wish
for the sweet, dulcet breezes of spring
or the waves of the ocean
of the nectar of immortality?

paśyanti ke sura-bali-ramaṇīyatāṁ tāṁ

mandākinī-vikaca-kāñcana-padma-lakṣmīm /

sampūrṇa-śārada-sudhākara-maṇḍalaṁ vā

śrī-rūpa-pāda-kavitā-surasaṁ nipīya //2//

Alter having drunk just once
the delicious juice of Rūpa Gosvāmī's poetry,
who would look upon the beauty
of the garden of the gods,
or upon the beauty of blooming golden lotus flowers
in the Ganges of the heavens,
or upon the disc of the full moon of autumn?

ke vā rasāla-mukuleṣv ali-jhaṅkṛtāni

śṛṇvanti kinnara-vadhū-kala-kaṇṭhi-nādān /

kuñjeṣu mañju-kala-kokila-kūjitaṁ vā

śrī-rūpa-pāda-kavitā-surasaṁ nipīya //3//

And of those who have drunk just once

the delicious juice of Rūpa Gosvāmī's poetry,
who would still listen to the sweet buzzing
of the bees as they taste the mango flowers,
or to the song of the wives of the heavenly choir,
or the sweet song of the koil in the forests?

[i] This verse, attributed to the female poet Śilā Bhaṭṭārikā, has been quoted so many times in all manner of works that it can truly be called an “old saw.” It has been included, with some variants in the readings, in compilations such as Subhāṣita-ratna-kośa (815), Sadukti-karṇāmṛta (533), Sūkti-muktālī (87.9), Śārṅgadhara-paddhati (3768), etc. The most significant citation, however, is at the beginning of Mammaṭa's textbook on poetics Kāvya-prakāśa (example 1.1), where it is used to illustrate the very principle of poetry itself (vākyaṁ rasātmakaṁ kāvyam) as primarily being a conveyor of rasa or "mood," rather than speech decorated with the various rhetorical flourishes. Of course this has been contested by later poeticians, notably Viśvanātha (Sāhitya-darpaṇa 1.1 ff) who finds a mixture of several tropes in this single verse. Its importance for the Gauḍīyas is also attested by its frequent appearance in their works, viz. Padyāvalī 382, Vaiṣṇava-toṣaṇī 82.48. Kṛṣṇa-sandarbha 170, Gopāla-campū 1.33.318 and 2.36.122, and no less than three times in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, 2.1.6, 2.136, 3.1.7

[ii] This translation is based on that of Ingalls. Daniel H.H. Ingalls, Sanskrit Poetry from Vidyākara's Treasury (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968) 815. Changes have been made as the readings found in Kāvya-prakāśa and Subāṣita-ratna-kośa differ somewhat.

[iii] CC Antya 1.85-6.

[iv] Vidagdha-mādhava 1.15, Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya 1.99.

[v] It may be open to question whether Rūpa had actually composed this verse by 1517 AD as the date of publication of Vidagdha-mādhava is given in the colophon of that work as 1535, by which date the concept of bhakti-rasa would have been a familiar one throughout the community of Caitanya followers. The word rasa has been translated in various ways even within this short introduction: "mood' (Ingalls) “sentiment" (De and others) "aesthetic rapture" (Masson), "sacred rapture" (Delmonico), and "mellow" (Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī) are some of the more frequently used renderings.

[vi] One of Rūpa's contributions to Vaiṣṇava literature is an analysis of the elements of the classical Sanskrit play in a work named Nāṭaka-candrikā. The discussion found in this chapter of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta has drawn on that text.

[vii] Original source unknown.

[viii] Daṇḍin’s Kāvyādarśa 1.7 is similar in three quarters:

tad alpam api nopekṣyaṃ kāvye duṣṭaṃ kathañcana |

syād vapuḥ sundaram api śvitreṇaikena durbhagam ||

Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Dūta-kāvyas: 

(1) The sources of Rupa Goswami’s Authority

(2) Dating Haṁsadūta and Uddhava-sandeśa

(3) The Dūta-kāvya Genre

(4) Separation in Rūpa Gosvāmī's writings

(5) Modern and Classical Literary Tastes

(6) Rasa: From aesthetic to sacred rapture

(7) Towards an Objective Assessment

 These articles have not all been posted yet. The abridged article will appear as a whole in the next issue of the Journal of Vaishnava Studies, to which I invite all serious students to subscribe.


Jagadananda Das said…
Radhe Radhe

This article is based on my introduction to the book Mystic Poetry, which was published in 1999 by Mandala Media. An abridged version will appear in the next issue of the Journal of Vaishnava Studies, to which I invite all serious students to subscribe.


The two articles already posted here are the parts that were cut out. The rest will be posted after the readers of the Journal have had a chance to see it. Radhe Radhe!

Akinchana Jagadananda Das

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