Monday, August 31, 2009

Gopala-vijaya Dana-lila translation, Part II

(3) Chapter 38 (54)

1. When Kanai said all these things, the gopis felt no limit to either their excitement or distress. 2. They all went to Barai’s side, and sighing heavily, with sad faces they spoke. 3. “We have heard all these things from Krishna, so how do you advise us, Barai? 4. What crazy God created woman? We don’t even know what is the proper thing to say. 5. We never heard of anyone having to pay taxes on youthful beauty, anywhere from here to the salt-water. 6. He is engaged in all this useless debate in your presence. How can anyone even speak of the impropriety!?

Naturallly there seems to be a great deal of missing undertone. Like here, how much of this is serious? What is the tone of voice? Over the top. Offended. Of course, that is the whole point, isn’t it?

7. "Much as we laugh and supplicate, it has no effect on the rascal Kanai. 8. He does not have a single one of the characteristics of a customs officer. His cruel words are intolerable. 9. He claims to be a customs officer, yet has no hesitation in describing a woman’s youth and beauty as though he were her husband. 10. He acts like some tough guy and tries to frighten us, and when he starts to intimidate us, it makes us tremble. 11. He glorifies his own prowess with his own tongue. Indeed he recognizes nothing but his own strength. 12. He does not speak respectfully of the king, nor does he respond to humility. 14. He stands in front of us with his arms outstretched, saying he will catch us if we try to flee. 15. A real customs man would never say even one of these things. Why is he causing so much trouble? 16. My heart cannot tolerate his words, I have spoken what is on my mind, Barai. 17. Let’s go, Barai, and you can tell everyone at home all that Nanda Kumar is saying. 18. If Kanu goes on saying these wicked things, then I will jump into the Yamuna and kill myself.”

19. When the gopis had said all these things, Barai started laughing and spoke the following few words. 20. “You have spoken well, girls, there is nothing to do but give up. 21. Let’s all go together and speak to him. Let us try go to Nanda Kumar and try to please him. 22.

25. I can tell you one thing and that’s for sure: No one gets to Nanda’s son Krishna by force. 26. You know that Krishna is the great tax collector for all time. What gain is there in making false claims and arguments? 27. Krishna softens with love; if you try to force him, he responds with force. And by the strength of his arms, he does indeed rule over all Gokula. 28. Indra and the other gods cannot stop him by force, and for fear of him, Kamsa trembles convulsively. 29. Being women, what can you gain by disputing with him? Even a little bit of such argument can cause great folly. 30. You want to send me to tell the cowherds what is going on, but if I don’t stay here, nothing will get done here. 31. Like the daughter in the Ananta-vrata, I will be damned if I do, damned if I don’t. If I stay I gain nothing, but if I leave I will be blameworthy.

Unfortunately I do not know this Ananta-vrata reference. Doing research. The kind of advocating that Barai is doing on behalf of the gopis is a little different from SKK and here , her function as guru to the gopis is being demonstrated. If so, it would be worth analyzing her speech in terms of this role here, particularly verse 25.

UPDATE: See B.A. Gupte, *Hindu Holidays and Ceremonials*, p. 7ff, for an account of the "first Anantavrata" performed by Shila, daughter of Sumanta, for her husband Kaudinya. Kaudinya loses his mind and wanders off into the forest, 
until he learns for himself the value of the Anantavrata. At the point when
he rejects her sacrifice and leaves, one might say that Shila has nothing to gain by staying but would be at fault if she left him. (Thanks to Zo Newell)

32. When the gopis heard Barai's sweet words, they feigned anger and said, 33. "You are a good person and are speaking nicely. We can understand that you are making all these suggestions in view of the current circumstances. 34. But Kanai is a rascal and you are speaking well of him like this. By doing so, you are bringing doom on yourself and your clan. 35. Well, we understand what you have said, Barai, and so we will all go and present ourselves to Kanai. 36. We will speak directly to him as best we can. What can anybody do? We will be able to leave at our own pleasure.”

37. Having said these words, the gopis all went to Kanu, seeing which Krishna covered his mouth to hide a laugh. 38. “Oh cowherd women! What have you come to argue? If Murari does not get his taxes, he won’t let you go.

This can either be seen as Krishna speaking of himself in the third person or a comment of the author. More likely the first.

39. Alright, then, if you won’t pay the tax, then listen up. You may go to Mathura market, but you will have to leave Radha here. 40. Radha will have to stay here with me as bond, then when you come back and pay me off, she can go home with you.`

41. Hearing this, Barai laughed and said, “It’s just like lime dust here and there on an untouchable’s cooking pot (? chutāhāḍi-mājhe jena cuna ṭhāi ṭhāi). 42. You are so generous, Kanai, speaking so nicely. Would you have no shame before your own father? 43. How long does Rahu cover the moon? Who puts a deer in the care of a lion? 44. Who gives a flower garland to an intoxicated elephant? And what fool pours ghee on a blazing fire? 45. What ignorant person is there in the entire world who would go off, leaving Radha in Kanai’s hands? 46. The Veda says that a thief wants darkness, a cheat seeks confusion, and a debauche desires solitude. 47. If you are looking for a bond, Kanai, then I will stay with you and let Radha go with the others to market.”

48. Damodar heard this and burst out laughing. Then showing her displeasure, Radha addressed Barai as follows. 49. “Say what you will, Barai, I think you are crazy. People grow older, but their character flaws remain. 50. Kanai doesn’t say anything that is not filled with a wicked purpose. And now you are starting to flirt (ḍhāmāli) with him yourself? 51. Well, whoever wants to can go. I don’t want to go to market any longer. Let whoever wants take her wares, I am going home.”

52. With these words Radha went a little distance; she kept the old woman and the gopis underneath a tree, 53. drew a line around them with her feet and kept them inside this circle while she went off to complain to Nanda Maharaj.

I don’t quite understand what happened here. My interpretation seems to be wrong. It looks from what happens later that the gopis leave Radha behind.

54. Kavisekhara says this is all Radha’s cleverness, which has the intention of giving more pleasure to Vanamali Krishna.

Certainly this theme is essentially different from the SKK and closer to the Goswamis. What I think is clear is that the Goswamis take it for granted, as something that has already been established and does not quite need the explanation.

(4) Chapter 39 (39)

1. As she was leaving, Radha looked askance at Krishna, and he lost all composure. 2. Leaping forward he came to Radha Chandravali, like a lion in front of a fawn. 3. Radha’s frantic eyes looked in all directions, but all she saw was Nandanandan standing in front of her. 4. Seeing him, she began to shake like a banana tree trembling in the summer breeze.

5. Krishna said, “Radhe, you don’t recognize me. On what power do you think you will be able to disrespect me and leave? 6. I am holding you here by the banks of the Yamuna. We will see what your Kamsasura* can do to help you. (*other readings: Aihana, gopa. ) 7. I am holding you by the corner of your cloth and I won’t let you go until I have written the taxes that are due.”

8. And with that, Krishna started to engage in all kinds of flirtatious acts. Radha answered him, 9. “Don’t touch my cloth, Krishna. Have you no shame? You have no fear of God or society. 10. Nothing anyone says seems to change your misguided mentality. And what can anyone add to what you have already heard? 11. I am watching your shameless behavior. You are having great fun ruining my life. 12. Kanu, you are so blinded by lust that you don’t listen to anyone. You don’t think about whether there will be good consequences to your actions or bad. 13. You hear Kamsa’s name and immediately run and hide in whatever house you can find. You see the wife of a cowherd and set a trap for her.

14. “Stop it, just stop it, Kanai. What if someone sees? Don’t touch my bodice. What if you should scratch me? 15. Watch out, you might break my necklace. What do you think you can accomplish by force, by this kind of behavior? 16. I swear on Yashoda’s name that if you touch me... if you leave any scratch marks on this white body... 17. Don’t kiss my lips, shameless Kanu, you have abandoned any sense of shame; you have no fear. 18. I am a married respectable woman and happen to be here alone. Everyone knows what kind of behavior you engage in.

20. “Nearby, the swollen Yamuna is perilous; nobody comes this way and there is a wide open field. 21. The day is coming to an end and the path is far away. And back home are my fearful in-laws. 22. All the girlfriends who came with me have been conspiring against me. Leave me alone Kanai and let me live. 23. What else can I say? Fate is being cruel to me. I have brought this upon myself by coming with Barai. 24. I don’t know where she has disappeared to at this moment, leaving me hanging. Like she is leaving me here in the middle of a raging fire to burn. 25. It will be a good deed, Kanai if you let me return home. Who knows what Barai has been telling them back there?"

Just a word about the above section. This is also a variation on the theme of rasa-dhvani that is particularly famous. See Sāhitya-darpaṇa 1.2, and also svāmī mugdhataro, etc. The basic idea is that Radha appears to be telling Krishna of the dangers of a negative situation, but in fact she is stressing her availability and the propitious circumstances. This also makes the last verse of the previous chapter clear.

26. Seeing Kanai’s deviousness, Barai left the other sakhis and came running back to Radha. 27. Badai had known of Krishna’s misbehavior for a long time and had gone āti tepāntare to amuse Radharani. 28. She knew that if she was late, it would not be good. The whole of Gokula would fill with shame. 29. Thinking this, she came quickly and saw both Radha and Krishna at the base of the kadamba tree.

30. On seeing Barai, Radha felt her strength double. But she did not look away from Krishna. 31. Covering her breasts with her arms, she receded in fear. 32. Seeing Barai, she look at her with anxiety-filled eyes and then quickly spoke with a trembling voice. 33. “O Mother, look at Kanai’s behavior. He has grabbed my cloth and is blocking me here on the path. 34. None of the sakhis is saying anything. Krishna managed to separate me from the rest of the girls and get me here alone. 35. Kanu doesn’t let me get a word in edgewise. He says he wants me to pay taxes, but then he won’t take them. 36. Just judge Kanu’s state of mind; can you tell me why he is insulting people like this?”

37. When Radha had finished this speech, Rasika Murari let go of her cloth. 38. “O.K. Radhe, I have released your cloth. Now are you going to give me what you owe?”

39. Kavishekhar says, “Listen to the Gopāla-vijaya, people, for it is a downpour of nectar."

Gopala-vijaya Dana-lila translation, Part I

Just trying to get back in the game. I am posting the Gopala-vijaya version of the dana-lila, in a rather rushed and imperfect translation. This translation is unofficial. Bits in italics are those I am not
sure of and should get checked by someone who knows this old Bengali better than I.

(1) Chapter 36. (73)

1. One day Kanai put on his fancy attire and went with his friends into the forest. 2. He put his friends in charge of grazing the cattle and himself went to the Mathura Road. 3. When he got to the Yamuna’s banks, he sat down in the shade of a kadamba tree.

4. While he sat there, the girls of Braja came along that very path, carrying their goods for market. 5. When Krishna saw them, he could not restrain himself and began bobbing in an ocean of delight, the end of which could not be seen.

6. Meanwhile, the gopis themselves became wary on seeing Krishna. Their knees weakened and they could barely move forward. 7. They stood there, lined up like rag dolls, immobile, and began speaking to Barai,

8. “O Barai! Look over there, close by under the kadamba tree. The more we look, the more our life-airs flutter. 9. Is that a new raincloud adorned with lightning flashes, with a full black moon riding on its crest? 10. And is that a sliver of a white moon upon that full black moon, and on top of it a garland of darkness? 11. And above that darkness, it seems, is a rainbow, Indra’s bow. Who has ever seen such an amazing sight? 12. Tell us what we should do, O Barai. We have work to do and must go to Mathura, but seeing this wonder, we have become afraid.”

13. Another gopi said, “I know what that is. A young cowherd is sitting under that kadamba tree.”

Comment: This is a fairly common trope in Sanskrit poetry called sandeha alankara. Instead of making a simple simile, you express the comparison in the form of a doubt (sandeha). The doubt can either be resolved or unresolved (niscaya). Here the doubt is resolved by the second gopi in verse 13. This kind of classical use of rhetoric is not so prominent in Chandidas and seems to show the influence of the classical as opposed to the folk tradition as a part of this intermediate stage between Chandidas and the Goswamis. As I have already said, the introduction of the Bhagavatam to Bengal seems to have rejuvenated both folk and classical as well as the religious elements related to Krishna.

14. When the gopi answered in this way, Barai laughed and spoke [to the others]. 15. “Where do you see clouds or tamal trees? That’s a young cowherd sitting under that kadamba tree. 16. Anyway, we all know that Yashoda’s boy is a batch of trouble. 17. Nobody look anywhere. Walk carefully. and if Kanu asks anything, don’t pay him any notice.”

জানিএ আজাতি বড় জশোদা তনএ
দু আঙ্গুলি মুখে জার কথা দিল নহে

18. Giving this instruction to the gopis, the old lady joyful walked on before them. 19. Seeing this, Krishna laughed and said, “Where are you going, Barai, with all these beauties?”

20. Barai went to Krishna while the gopis continued along the path in single file. 21. Krishna barely noticed her, as his eyes were fixed on Radha’s face. 22. The perceptive old woman just laughed and with her eyes indicated to Krishna that he should stop the gopis from proceeding. 23. So Krishna spread his arms and stood on the path. All the gopis stood before him, their heads lowered. 24. Disturbed, the girls looked towards Barai, but this only made Krishna laugh.

25. He said, “O cowherd women! What are you looking at Barai for? She hasn’t any power over anyone. (বড়াই শকতি কার কি করিতে পারি) 26. Get serious here and put down your goods, and bring them to me so I can make an estimate of their value. 27. Don’t get clever with me. You owe me twelve years worth of customs duties.”

28. When Barai heard this she lifted her cane and advanced quickly as if to strike Krishna. 29. “What are you jabbering on about? What is this nonsense? On what pretext are you blocking these young women’s path? 30. You are bullying us all for no reason. Don’t you know what happens to those who interfere with married women on the public highway?”

31. Damodar just laughed when he heard this and said, 32. “Listen to me, Barai, I have something to tell you. This kind of trouble never happened in the past. 33. No one likes to do this kind of government work, but no one likes to lose money, either. 34. Don’t think of me as Kanai, the village boy, and just ignore me. You won’t get away with word games this time. 35. So I am telling you that you in for a bit of trouble if you don’t pay your customs duties. 36. Tell these girls that there is no point in just standing there either. 37. Tell them to put down their goods and stand by that tree, while I make a note of what they owe me.”

38. After Krishna had said this, Barai advanced toward Radha and repeated it all to her. 39. On hearing it, the gopis were disheartened and began thinking. 40. “We all knew that Kahnai had this tendency to be a troublemaker. But we never thought he would show it externally in this way. 41. We are just going to the market to sell our goods and he comes and starts to harass us in this way. 42. We heard it said everywhere that if we went with Borai we would be able to avoid such difficulties. 43. On their word we forgot everything and now we are in this mess. We cannot calculate what the end result will be. 44. How many ways they assured us when we were at home, but their laughing assurances have been the cause of our downfall. 45. Even now we are condemning ourselves, as we genteel housewives head off to market in her company. 46. But we told Barai at every step of the way, that we don’t want to go to the market by the road where Kahnai will be found.

47. "My mind warned me that today we wouldn’t make it back home after going to the market. 48. Tell me why Kanu is blocking our way. What will he gain by imprisoning the young brides of the cowherd families? 49. O Barai, why don’t you free Radha from Krishna? And why does Krishna interfere with us in order to collect on behalf of Kamsa? 50. We know what is proper it is not proper for him to hold us here like this."

The above passage is partly thought, partly spoken by different gopis including Radha.

51. Hearing this, Barai slowly said, “What did he say that made you unsettled? 52. If a thorn gets on your clothes while you are walking, don’t you stop and pull it off? 53. If someone who presents a danger to your life asks you something, doesn’t it make sense to answer? 54. In truth Krishna is joking with you. Let me explain. 55. Kamsa may rule over his kingdom for many yugas, but by whose shakti can he do so? 56. So you should face Govinda and speak sweetly to him."

One of the obvious things to look for is any statement indicating aishwarya.

[Barai says to Krishna] 57. "Listen Kahnai, take what we say seriously. Don’t delay us by playing this silly toll collector game. 58. Otherwise, we will just leave our milk and curds here. Do what you like, just let us go home. 59. We don’t know what to say to you, Nandakumar. When one falls into the hands of a known hooligan, there is no respite."

Here is the essence of the amusement or rasa: Borai just said to the gopis that Krishna was the source of the king's power and now she calls him a hooligan to his face.

60. On hearing these words, Kahnai got angry and said, “What pleasure do you get out of saying such nonsense, Barai? 61. No one should listen to the words of a senile woman. Let’s ask the gopis directly what they say. 62. No gain comes of remaining silent. But neither should anyone try to trick the trickster."

63. On hearing this, Radha became angry and, directing her words to Barai, said in a measured tone. [Radha does not speak to Krishna directly but through Barai as intermediary (the same convention as in the SKK).] 64. “You are the son of an important person, and so I know of you as someone important. And yet such words come out of your mouth. 65. Nanda Maharaj is the authority over the cowherd community, even Kamsasura considers him worthy of respect. 66. You are his son and the life of the cowherd settlement (gokulera parANa). No one here is equal to you in beauty or virtue. 67. At a very early age you have become famous for your heroism. Parents are delivered by a son like you. 68. You can do as you like, but whatever you do, people will applaud you. 69. If a high caliber person does some despicable act, he becomes the black sheep of his community which is filled with shame. 70. What has pushed you to set up this toll booth here and who has given you the authority to do so, pray tell. 71. Are you only doing it because you see women on the path. I am sure that when he hears about it, King Kamsa will give you the appropriate punishment."

72. When Kahnai heard the gopis say all this, he laughed and then angrily said, looking in Barai’s direction. 73. Kavishekhar recounts the story of the dana, hearing which will bring great joy and at the same time free you from material bondage.

72. When Kahnai heard the gopis say all this, he laughed and then, looking in Barai’s direction, spoke angrily. 73. Kavishekhar recounts the story of the dana, hearing which will bring great joy and at the same time free you from material bondage.

Once again Krishna is speaking to Radha through Barai. Krishna speaks in the next chapter. Note Kavishekhar hear says that listening to this lila will free one from material bondage. Baru Chandidas never says this.

(2) Chapter 37

[Krishna speaking] 1. “I am just going to say one thing, Radha. Listen carefully. If one says too much, then you will never get it. 2. O Aihan’s wife! I can answer all your criticisms fully. 3. I am giving you the benefit of the doubt for Barai’s sake, but you will have to recognize your own value and establish what you owe in taxes. 4. Monetary matters are irksome, but to laugh them off is shameful. If you behave properly you never get anything.

Krishna is saying he has to be tough to get his money.

5. “Because I ask for taxes, you attack my right to do so. All these prideful utterances are unworthy. 6. O foolish girl, ask every person to whom the king has given authority over Gokula, one by one. 7. Every month I pay a sum to him, and this amuses his whole household. Since we are related, I can say nothing to anyone. 8. What more can I say, so my beautiful one, make your own estimate and give me my taxes. 9. Our community is all cowherds, nobody knows agriculture. The only way to pay the taxes to the government is through giving the toll.

The idea is that usually taxes would be paid by giving a portion of the crops. I guess that tradesmen, merchants, etc., would have to pay in cash or in kind. That is implied by the word dana.

10. “I used to have a man do this for me, but no one paid him any mind and just walked all over him. 11. So my dues have not been given to me for some time, and what fool would tolerate such losses, Radha? 12. So I have set up the toll gate myself this time, and I am not letting even a farthing get away. 13. As far as you are concerned, you all come and go on this path regularly and out of pride and personal strength you never pay your taxes. 14. I will break and throw away all your jewels and possessions, I will tear your blouse and take away your jeweled necklaces (sAtesarI hAra). 15. I won’t let you go to the market to sell your wares, foolish one. Otherwise, [if you pay me], you can go freely.

The threat of tearing the blouse is more subdued here in this version than in SKK. parabodhi "if you give me a good excuse."

16. “What behavior are you showing me, Radha? If Kamsa has appointed me as his agent, then I should be respected by everyone. 17. If you think you are greater than me, then come with me to see Kamsa and have my appointment taken away.”

18. On hearing these words, the beautiful Radha feigned humility and said the following: 19. "O rasika Gopala, you have done well, for it has been a long time since I have heard the word dana. 20. I consider it a matter of great fortune that I have encountered the son of Nanda today as the great customs officer. 21. So look at our goods and make an assessment of their value and then take whatever you decide. 22. Since you are new to this work and this toll station is also new, I can tell you that to exercise force on people in this way is quite improper. 23. A new customs officer behaves in this way, deciding beforehand how much he is going to take. 24. Instead of writing everything down and making a proper assessment, you just make your demands as soon as a merchant arrives. 25. Please don’t mind everything I have said and simply take what you want from what is here.”

Calling Krishna rasika is another sign of progress from SKK. The last verse means that Krishna should not ask for more than what is present right there. He is asking for back payments without making an assessment of the value of what they have with them.

26. Hearing Radha’s words, the clever Kanai laughed and said the following: 27. “You have spoken well, O beautiful Radhika, and I will indeed write down what taxes must be paid, then will do what I must do. 28. Now all you beautiful girls sit down in rows while I calculate each one of your taxes. 29. Radha, you have butter, ghee, milk and yogurt, and you yourself are a priceless treasure. 30. These things are worth the same as the nectar of the gods. Surveying it all, it is worth an incalculable amount. 31. I will call gopi's name and tell her how much she owes me."

32. Hearing all the unspeakable things spoken by Krishna, the gopis bowed their heads and began to think. 33. Sighing heavily and began to speak sadly, “We don’t know what madness is going on.” 34. They went and sat in rows beside Borai. 35. “O Barai, tell us what to do, tell us what to do! What offense have we committed that this uncouth Kahnai is holding us up? 36. Krishna is imposing a tax on our milk based on the value of divine ambrosia. He puts so much pride in his physical strength that he does not even care for Kamsa. 37. He tears off our pearl necklaces. We can’t understand what is going on. 38. Krishna’s behavior is not good, nobody would call it appropriate. 39. We came with you, Barai, on the assurances that everything would be alright. Now you are just sitting on the sidelines here, watching the fun. 40. We will just leave all our wares here and go home. Let’s see what Nanda Kumar does then."

41. Thinking all this, the gopis stood in front of Krishna and looked at Barai. 42. Then putting down their goods they started off home, but Krishna spread his arms and stopped them. 43. "What are you putting your goods down for?" he asked. "Vanamali wants twelve years worth of back taxes. 44. Without any reason, you are offering worthless cow milk as payment, but your youthful beauty is worth millions of times more than that. 45. Your hair is the whisk fan of Kamadeva’s victory. Why do you bind it?

46. "Now I have to examine the strands of your hair, one by one, to see how much they are worth. 47. The vermilion in your part is a priceless jewel. How will you hide Kamadeva’s golden staff? 48. And all these musk decorations on your forehead, I will have to ascertain how much you will have to give me in duties for that. 49. Who can say how much the diamond pendants dangling from your ears are worth, but it must be a great deal. 50. Your two eyebrows are Kamadeva’s bow. The strings of the bow are the collyrium, the arrows are your darting glances. 51. I cannot find anything on earth with which to compare your nose; if there were a parakeet of gold, perhaps its beak would be appropriate. 52. Your nose is the quiver for Kamadeva’s arrows. All these items are worth a considerable amount that need to be calculated.

53. "Your lips are bimba fruits, your teeth are pearls. What wealth are you hiding there in your smile? 54. No one knows the price to put on your speech; each syllable coming out of your mouth is a priceless jewel. 55. Your entire face is like King Kamadeva’s mirror of touchstone. It is a treasure I cannot describe, even after seeing or touching it. 56. Your throat is Kamadeva’s clockwise conchshell. Its worth is inestimable. 57. Your arms are Kamadeva’s victory garland. Your hands rubies, one with the fingernails shine.

58. "Ayana’s queen (Radha), let me tell you this. There is no customs officer anywhere who would let you get away without paying duties on all this. 59. At every step you are stealing from us, Radhe. How could anyone tolerate it? And yet you hold a golden treasure box against your chest. 60. Above that shines a Sateswari necklace that is desired by inestimable numbers of people throughout the world. 61. I know your little game. It is not good. I am telling you what you should do if it does not embarrass you.

62. "Judge for yourself. Whether you pay me or not, but what are you hiding when you keep tying and untying your waist string? 63.Your buttocks are the wheel on Kamadeva’s victory chariot. You can cover them with your skirt, but you cannot cover the love. 64. Your thighs are Kamadeva’s throne. How can I let you go without you telling you this?

65. "I can’t think what I should ask for the jeweled ankle bells jingling on your feet. 66. But don’t worry about paying for that. Just give the appropriate duties and go home. 67. The ankle bells are hanging on your feet like Kamadeva’s decoration. You will have to ask Kamsa himself how much he should pay for it. 68. Once you have paid the duties on all things, you can go sell your goods. But what toll keeper keeps small change on hand? 69. If you don’t and simply joke around with me, then you won’t get to go home. 70. You have shown me your beauty, Radhe. Now what person would let you go without getting for it? 71. You are Barai’s maidservant, you are a daughter-in-law (bahuAri) in Barai's household, so I am afraid to use strong language with you. 72. You are clever and I am a liberal man, so don’t say that you won’t pay the appropriate taxes. 74. Now listen to one more thing, Radha, preserve your respectability and pay me my taxes. 75. If you don’t, then don’t blame me for the consequences. Pay the tax and the entire country will be blameworthy.

76. Kavishekhar says that anyone who listens to Krishna’s dana-lila will never have to meet with Yamaraja.

This Orissan picture of Dana-lila was posted by Karunamayi Das on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Radhashtami 2009

Rādhā-viraha. Nandalal Bose (1936).

I have been carrying on a multi-pronged research project in relation to the Dāna-līlā, part of which includes reading the Bengali texts that precede Mahaprabhu's incarnation.

Now one thing that is very important to understand: Nothing happens in a vacuum. There are always preconditions that make subsequent events possible. If there were no Radha-consciousness before Mahaprabhu came, it would have been impossible for anyone to believe or accept the mythology of Mahaprabhu incarnating Radha's mood.

The entire theological thrust of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, which is only moderately present in Mahaprabhu's other biographies, is that Radha is superior to Krishna, not because of some glorious divine creative, mystical or magical powers, but because of her love.

bhaktir evainaṁ nayati
bhaktir evainaṁ darśayati
bhakti-vaśaḥ pūruṣaḥ
bhaktir eve bhūyasī
Devotion leads the Supreme Lord. Devotion reveals Him. The Lord is under the thrall of bhakti. Therefore Bhakti is even greater than the Lord.
Such a statement is controversial in many ways. How can anything have dominion over the All-Powerful Supremely Independent, etc., Supreme (Masculine) Lord?

In order to understand the answer, it is necessary to know that Radha and Krishna are in fact ONE. Bhakti, symbolized as the supreme manifestation of Love in Radha, is an integral part of God's own being. In order to experience Itself (I use the neuter not to depersonalize the Supreme Truth, but the include both masculine and feminine in It) it is necessary for the Supreme Truth to become multiple. The experience of multiplicity has its highest perfection in Reunion, which is the object of Love.

The masculine part of the Lord divides, the feminine part unites.

And that is where this difficult poem of Chandi Das's resides. A few years ago I published a translation of the Haṁsadūta and Uddhava-sandeśa in which I discussed S.K. De's critique of Rupa Goswami's poetry. The basic thrust of my argument was that De was applying modern literary standards to medieval poetry, and that was a flawed approach.

When it comes to Chandidas, however, there is something "modern" about Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana. I noted on these pages that Chandidas's Krishna is pretty much despised by most Bengali critics. This shows, in effect, their bias towards a medieval or classical approach, i.e., Krishna cannot be flawed. Or if he is flawed, it must be a temporary or stylistic flaw only. How can Krishna be so cruel and unforgiving to Radha, who loves him so much? These critics, in effect, want Krishna to be the idol they have been accustomed to seeing on the altar and not anything else.

But, as I see it, Krishna is a "bad boy." To some extent, he always has been a bad boy. It becomes a bit of a joke in the later literature. But even Mahaprabhu's prayer in Radha's voice says, "Even if Krishna treats me cruelly, even if he womanizes in front of me, he is still the Lord of my life." There is something about the distilled and cleaned up version of Krishna, in the name of līlā that marginalizes his dubious behavior. We call him a dhīra-lalita and let him off the hook.

Let us give a little credit to Chandidas. He has been criticized in many ways--his poetry is not as memorable or as powerful as that of the "other" Chandidas, not as transcendent, not as magnificent in its depiction of Radha's love. Forgotten, and best left forgotten except for archaeological interest.

Well, I am slow, but I have not come to the same conclusion. Chandidas's Radha evolves, and to some extent so does Krishna. We don't know (Damn those missing pages at the beginning and end of the book!) whether Krishna comes back to Vrindavan. Chandidas does not even bother with the niceties of describing Krishna's departure as found in the Bhāgavatam with Akrura coming and the gopis trying to block the departing chariot, which is also so poignantly described in Haṁsadūta. He just goes directly from the episode of Radha stealing the flute to Krishna's absence.

Chandidas describes Radha's viraha. Krishna does not even say anything until the very last song that we have, number 418, after Barai once again plays the role of go-between (the Viraha-khaṇḍa is the second longest in SKK, from 350-418, and still incomplete):
"Don't speak to me of her, Barai. When I hear her name, I don't ever want to return. You know how much she has made me suffer, and I have decided I will never see her again. Go back, Barai, go back and don't come to talk to me of Radha again. How much lemon juice will you pour on these open wounds? I could leave the wealth and opulence that I have here, but I will never be able to bear the burning of Radha's mean words. I have left my home in Gokula because I have decided to destroy Kamsa. In separation..."
And we don't know what happens next. Does Krishna have a change of heart? It seems awful late in the game. The only thing we can point to is the folk tradition--such as Gopāla-vijaya, which combines the Bhāgavata and the folk literature and has Krishna come back. But even were Krishna to come back, his behavior seems unforgivable. Nothing--not his demon-killing heroism, not his being an incarnation of Narayan, not Radha's eternal consorthood as Lakshmi--nothing seems to justify his petulant intransigeance.

It seems that Krishna repeatedly brings up Radha's original sin, her refusing his gift of tambul. Even she seems riddled with guilt about what was, after all, a totally justifiable reaction. Even in līlā terms, we expect Radha to refuse Krishna. It is necessary as part of the parakiya nayika's role. If she were to give in easily, it would render the lila meaningless. But even after Radha has given herself to Krishna heart and soul, even after he has completely "taken her life" by shooting her with Cupid's arrow, even after his heart has been softened (see Bāna-khaṇḍa), he still cannot give up something that just seems to go completely against the principle of bhakti itself.

Now the big question with Chandidas is whether he was simply describing Krishna in purely human terms--a rather arrogant and unpleasant, though handsome and heroic, young man, whose uncontrollable lust leads him to overpower Radha and extract sexual favors from her, whose persistence and insistence eventually leads to her emotional capitulation, and then abandons her. The underscore is that of the ambivalent male, the brahmachari who cannot deal with his own sexuality (unlike the Krishna of the Gopāla-tāpanī, or the Vidagdha-mādhava, where it is just a lila joke), and so directs his self-anger outward, punishing Radha for having enchanting him. The damn poem is so psychologically astute that it tears your heart out.

See song 378:
"Day and night, I practice yoga meditation. My mind has become the wind in the sky. I have tasted the nectar in the root lotus, for I have attained knowledge of Brahman. Stay away from me, O beautiful Radha. Stop desiring me. I have united the Ila, Pingala and Sushumna, and so captured the wind-like mind. I have sealed the tenth door (the Brahma-randhra) and am fully situated on the yogic path. I have cut the arrows of Cupid with the arrow of knowledge, and your youthful beauty no longer affects me. I no longer feel any transformations in my body and I recognize the futility of life in this world." With these cruel words the Holder of the Discus, the Lord, the best of the playboys (nāgara-vara) became still, absorbed in meditation. So sings Chandidas before his goddess Basali.
The Bhāgavata theme of yoga-śikṣā or jnāna-śikṣā is here being found in a different form. Is it a teaching moment, or a moment of deliberate cruelty? Radha's reaction in both the Bhāgavata and in Chandidas is to emotionally reject this kindness.

And yet, where is Chandidas's "Supreme Personality of Godhead"? What was his point in making Krishna his leading character? He could have picked Bablu Ghosh and made the story about him and some mundane goalini... Is the divine allegory of love still operational? In that context, without Krishna' s response, without his surrendering to Radha's love, there is no meaning to any of it. It all becomes a pointless, though poignant, exercise in the meaninglessness of mundane love. But that cannot be.

In the Bhāgavata, Krishna ties the strings together. Though he tells the gopis that they must be satisfied with nothing other than their love for Him, that their love is its own reward, there is nevertheless an inevitability in the success of love where He is concerned.

mayi bhaktir hi bhūtānāṁ
amṛitatvāya kalpate
diṣṭyā yad āsīn mat-sneho
bhavatīnāṁ mad-āpanaḥ
Devotion to me leads to immortality for all beings. You have been fortunate enough to attain love for me, by which you have attained me. (10.82.44)
There are so many strands here, it is hard to break them all apart. In India, there is a belief that the woman's devotion to her husband corrects his flaws. I think this myth is perhaps further widespread than India. I have heard battered women say that they hoped that by loving and having faith in a deeply flawed, even sociopathic man (such as prisoners in jail), they could reform him. Men also says, "Your love has made me a better man." I don't think that this deep-seated idea of love's transformative aspects is without foundation, without some basis in human experience, and the exception here rather proves the rule.

In the divine metaphor, God is "Deus Absconditus", the absent God. The one who does not answer our prayers or save us or our loved ones in the time of need. He is the God who is equally indifferent to all, and seems to punish both the evil and the pious with old age, disease and death without favoritism.

That is why Radha has become the dominant figure in Chandidas, and by extension to the whole of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. The Bengali critics of Chandidas usually note that the best portions of the SKK are the later ones, Radha's songs of separation. In them, we find many of the themes that are later standard. Radha in the Gita Govinda is iconic in subjugating Krishna to her love, but the power of her love is not shown to the extent that it is in Chandidas.

In his commentary to UN 1.20, Jiva Goswami says that the power of an elephant can only be seen when it is chained and using all its strength to break free; similarly, the power of Radha's love for Krishna can only be fully seen in her separation from him. That is why "Radha-viraha" is the culmination of Chandidas. (And, as an aside, why Mahaprabhu's sannyasa is the culmination for Mahaprabhu's lila to many of his devotees.)

Here is one of Radha's songs in the many that succeed each other at the beginning of Viraha-khaṇḍa--
O Barai! My youth and wealth are all worthless. I will tear off this pearl necklace and throw it away. I will wipe off the crimson mark in my hair and grind my conch bracelets into dust. O cruel Barai, give me back my life. My own flawed destiny has taken Krishna away from me. I will shave my head and go to the ocean; I will become a yogini and wander from land to land. If I cannot have Krishna due to my past deeds, then I have no choice but to throw up my hands and swallow poison. I was unable to ever achieve the perfection of lovemaking with Krishna. The treasure I had wrapped in my cloth has been stolen by Fate. O please, Barai, just this once do something to help me. Go and find Krishna and bring him to me. Even after seeing me dressed and decorated for him, he still left me behind, like an orphan. (354)
There are many, many more. They are effective. The contrast between Radha's love and Krishna's indifference are stark. The starker they are, the more powerfully agonizing is her emotion and distress. You have to take it on faith that Krishna is worth attaining.

O devotees! If attaining God is like taking a camel through the eye of a needle, this is what you must be ready to accept. The burden -- the cross -- of separation.

One thing that needs further analysis is the separation of Radha Chandravali into two persons. This can only mean that Rupa Goswami was not happy with Radha's personality as depicted by Chandidas and divided her into two. So it would be interesting to see in which contexts Chandidas and Devakinandan Singh use the two names.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


On special request, I am posting a picture of Krishna, the attractor of Srimati Radharani, on the occasion of his birthday.

jayati jananivāso devakī-janma-vādo
yaduvara-pariṣhat svair dorbhir asyann adharmam
sthira-cara-vrijina-ghnaḥ susmita-śrī-mukhena
vraja-pura-vanitānāṁ vardhayan kāma-devam

May the Lord who is the abode of every living being, and yet is said to have taken birth in Devaki Mata's womb, be ever glorified. His companions are the best of the Yadus, and with his powerful arms, he throws off the manifestations of irreligion. He destroys the miseries of the moving and non-moving creatures with his sweetly smiling face. And he does so while increasing the erotic desires of the queens of Dvaraka and the gopis of Braj. (10.90.48)

Progressive and Liberal Ideas and Krishna bhakti

One thing I have noticed about the Western Krishna conscious movement is that most devotees (older ones at least) are progressive politically, due to their radical stance as youthful hippies against the "establishment culture."

This is unusual, on one sense, because Srila Prabhupada was VERY conservative, politically as well as socially. At one time or another, he said things that showed racist, fascist, anti-feminist, libertarian, anti-taxation and corporatist leanings. His preaching in India was geared towards business elites.

How hippies came to adopt leadership from this quarter is a curious matter in itself and worthy of investigation. Let us say that they were in search of a radical alternative to the established dominant culture in Western society, and the hedonistic and libertine counterculture of the time had proved an abject failure experimentally.

Prabhupada also fed conspiracist and apocalyptic tendencies amongst devotees--the coming of WWIII, the moon landing hoax, anti-science and what have you. These ideas would place you even on the fringes of the American survivalists, as was shown around the Y2K frenzy, when these elements in the KCM became a little more visible for a while.

But over time most of the old devotees have either tacitly returned to their progressive roots or have quit Iskcon when the cognitive dissonance between what Prabhupada stated on all these issues and the spiritual nourishment on offer became too great.

This is a very uncomfortable situation, because the most conservative elements still have the official upper hand. They are the ones who can appeal to loyalty and traditional authority. (“Prabhupada said” still rules.) The dissonance is worsened because one has what is often a rather hypocritical leadership--giving public voice to conservative ideals on the one hand, and turning a blind eye to the most egregious manifestations of liberal attitudes. A good example is, for instance, Bir Krishna's ritually sanctioning a gay relationships while publicly opposing Hridayananda Maharaj who at least had the courage to publicly defend his doing the same thing.

In practical terms, this means the de facto marginalization of the most conservative elements like those promoting a return to Varnashram or keeping women in their place, or polygamists, what to speak of other issues. On the other hand, groups like GALVA are given a voice, even though they are fairly radically opposed to the most conservative values.

But this leaves us with a serious hiatus between official doctrine (Sadhu, shastra and guru) and what is being lived and experienced by devotees. The KCM in the West is NEVER going to be a Hindu version of the Amish or Mennonites--socially conservative separatists leading an anti-modern agrarian lifestyle in the name of simple living and high thinking.

For socially liberal and politically progressive devotees to lead intellectually in a way that will bridge this disconnect will require a great deal of effort because such a stance requires reinterpretation of traditional knowledge and authority. And all KCM groups without exception say this is fundamentally wrong.

Since these philosophical battles have been fought in the West since the Enlightenment, we have a lot of catching up to do in understanding the philosophical value of progressive and liberal ideas and defending them in terms of our spiritual tradition. Philosophical atheists have been attacking organized religion since the time of Voltaire. And the heirs of the Enlightenment were not fools who can be dismissed with a wave of the hand. Their ideas must be encountered, and where they are right in their criticisms of religion, believers must be able to recognize it, in the humility of their faith, and take corrective measures.

The rejection of the "Establishment values" of the 1960's in America is the fertile soil in which the seeds of Krishna consciousness were planted. A plant's growth reflects not only its seed, but its soil also. Conservative Christianity today, in its most virulent forms, whatever its positive offerings may be, seems to me to be totally regressive and inimical to true spiritual progress.

For Krishna consciousness to become a mirror reflection of the Southern Baptist Convention does not seem like a desirable option. But if you have a gut reaction that matches my own, then you have to recognize that being intellectually lazy or dishonest is not going to cut it if we want Krishna consciousness to become something more than an odd footnote in the religious history of 20th century America.

Anyway, today is Janmastami and I realize that this is not a very devotional post. But let me claim that it is a devotional offering. Krishna says in the Gita that a person who studies theology worships him with his intellect. We are bound to serve and worship with the gifts that Krishna himself has given us. The evolution of the Vaishnava tradition is a service that is as real and important as every other aspect of this lovely religion.

Jayati Jananivaso Devaki-janma-vado!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

More thoughts about atheism

My basic idea here is simply this: I don't think that after Marx, Nietzsche, Huxley, Spenser, Freud, Sartre, Camus, and the rest of the 19th and 20th century's giants of atheistic thought, that there will be much new to be said. I have read most of these authors and also responses to their thought by Christian authors like Borhnoeffer, Tillich and Niebuhr.

Nevertheless, I think that there is value in the contribution all these thinkers made, and atheism had a strong influence on the development of Christianity in the post WWII period, both as a transformative in liberal mainline Protestantism as well as in the reactionary fundamentalisms. Of course, I find liberalism more attractive, and that is one of the reasons I appreciate the atheist critiques of fundamentalist thought.

In India, the influence of Buddhism meant that the most basic arguments of atheism were given much more credence philosophically and theism could not credibly grow in India without the intermediate step of Advaita Vedanta. Basically, when I brought up my sat-cid-ananda argument and called it progressive. I am simply trying to follow the progression from Brahman to Paramatman and then to Bhagavan.

Progressive might be the wrong word, since in fact, there is an eternity and infinity in each of those levels, and there is also a unity of personal and impersonal, etc. Nevertheless, it is my feeling that the most complete concept of God is personal. But since Western atheism is specifically a-theism, or rejection of a personal God, we have to establish a general concept of transcendence through negative terms before we can establish the positive attributes of the deity.

When we do go from defining God as pure existence, or as Tillich calls it, "the Ground of Being," we have to deal with the basic psychological problem in atheism. In the last couple of days I have been thinking about left and right brains a little bit, mainly because it seemed to me that most atheisms claim to be purely rational. Indeed, the jnani tendency of the via negativa is the fundamental tendency of all atheisms.

This is why in India, for instance, Vaishnavas have opposed Shankarite monism, because they feel that, as Mahaprabhu said, "By denying God's attributes, they are trying to cut him to bits, i.e., to kill him."

But the difference between Shankara and modern atheists is that for the latter, the act of "killing God" is seen as a necessary step in the emancipation of Mankind. That by subjugating ourselves to the Idea of a supreme master, we diminish ourselves as human beings. We limit our potential by always considering the will of a higher being. Not only that, but it seems laughable that a "supreme being" should expect servile adulation from an infinite number of slaves for any reason whatsoever. I could go on, but why multiply examples?

The point I am making in everything I say is to examine the evolutionary character of a debate. Whether one is an atheist or a theist, the basis of one's attitude is ultimately irrational. To think human beings are purely rational is itself an irrational idea. To think that the ideal human being would be purely rational is also irrational. It seems to me that when it comes to the matter of happiness itself, the affective and intuitive portions of the brain (the bhakti portions) have a more ultimately decisive role. Reason is its servant. And that, in one respect, is also what we are saying about the relation of Radha to Krishna.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Atheism and the Upanishads

Most people who are atheists are arguing against a specific concept or definition of God. They are pretty much all arguing straw men. Here are some examples:
  • They are arguing against religion, like Christopher Hitchens. "The Catholics exterminated the Cathars. Muslims forcibly converted their conquered enemies."
  • Or against stupid traditions that have been part of religion. "Religions have always been misogynistic."
  • They are arguing against specific beliefs. "If God is good, then why is there evil in the world?"
  • They are arguing against a particular concept of God. "If God is all pervading, why do you think of him in human terms, which is obvious projection?"
  • They are responding to poorly constructed defenses of theism. "Why should there be a cause of all causes, when infinite regression makes as much sense?"
  • And, of course, a real favorite: The concept of faith itself. Belief in revelation, etc.
Basically, they are all missing the basic point of Vedanta: Existence itself is proof of God. Not so much because God created it, but because there is no reason for there to be existence rather than non-existence. This is not a complicated idea. Existence exists. Existence itself is God. That is the minimum universal definition of God as sat.

This in turn leads to the idea of truth as God. Falsehood or Maya is the "not-God." These people should therefore be congratulated inasmuch as they present themselves as seekers of the Truth. But they are overenthusiastic and tend to miss the forest for the trees. The existence of falseness does not negate existence itself. The existence of darkness does not negate light, but the momentary presence of even the feeblest spark negates an infinite and eternal darkness.

But existence without consciousness is barely worth the name of existence. We stand distinct as conscious beings from the creation and can therefore reflect on it. We should reflect on reflection a little. The ability to reflect in itself poses a huge question. The atheist does not want to face this question above all--why? Why is there existence at all? And why am I able to reflect on it? Why am I even able to ask the question, "Why?" Ultimately, "Why?" is a more important question than "How?" But as long as I stand in relation to existence as a conscious being, the question imposes itself. It is the great elephant in the room of life, the one we try to sweep under the rug with an infinite number of rationales, all tottering on the shifting sands of agnosticism and doubt.

Cit, or consciousness, is the seat of the various versions of the ontological argument for the existence of God. Philosophers call this the most sophist of arguments, and yet it is the very consequence of being conscious itself. Consciousness means I as a subjectivity am distinct from an ultimately unapproachable and unknowable objective universe. The mystics therefore say, "Know yourself." And by knowing yourself in all your profundity, you will know that which appears to be not-self, not in terms of infinitely changing phenomena, but as One without a second.

And again, even a fragmentary, momentary spark of consciousness in infinity and all eternity, negates all unconsciousness for all time, in all places। What has been always is. And this is not in the slightest denied by the possibility that scientists may "one day" produce consciousness in a test tube or a super computer.

And then, there is joy. Love. But existence (the Other) and consciousness (the One) are barely worth the name without joyful response and interchange. It is the culmination of both the recognition of Oneness and the existence of Otherness. The synthesis of Unity and Distinction is the essence of love and joy.

And yet, atheists seem at their most confident when they debunk love and joy, seeing it as Evolution's invisible hand that exists only to promote the continued existence of the species, to confirm actions that are favorable to reproduction, etc.

Alright, but why is there an urge to seek pleasure in the first place? Some higher force (Nature) that is pushing us to reproduce or seek survival-friendly outcomes? And then we have to explain self-destructive actions in these terms also--Thanatos.

Love is the essence of joy. And in the awakened being, love is the gateway to God. "God is Love." If we are armed with this awareness, we will never be bewildered by arguments that point out the aberrations of religion (where there is a failure of Love) or those that rail against false concepts of God ("the angry, jealous or vengeful God") that are projections of the worst in Humankind. God is, in one sense, a projection, but a projection of the best in us; an instinctive ideal that becomes clearer with our evolution as individuals and as a species. It is the ideal that makes us grow as individuals and as a species as much as a lighthouse guides us to the harbor.

It seems that the Upanishads have given far better answers to these questions than the anti-religious, anti-God "Truth" seekers.

To say God is existence is really not different from saying existence comes from God. The multiplicity comes from One. And yet it is all One at the same time.

To say God is consciousness does not negate the fact that individual consciousness also exists. It is simply that we are capable of intuiting a universal basis of consciousness. Thus mystics from time immemorial have recognized that God exists primarily in the deepest subjectivity, which is found in meditation and self-reflection. If we disperse ourselves in externals, we become alienated from that deepest subjectivity, or what is called "knowledge of the Self."

But real joy comes from the synthesis of the the One and the Other. This goes far beyond mere survival and evolution. Yes, Love gives meaning to life, where mere survival and reproduction do not. But why should there be any meaning at all? Why should there be any satisfactions at all? Surely the satisfactions of the atheist are perceived as something more that mere tactics that Nature is using to reproduce the species?

And even if they were, what is this "Nature" or "Evolution" that is pushing the species to go on? And is there not an infinite regress of why's that are ultimately brushed under the rug of "we don't know and we will never know"?

And if that is the case, then why, oh why, do we neglect the obvious answer that the satisfactions--being, knowledge and love--are ends in themselves. Ends that ever-increasingly seek some form of infinity and eternity. Bhumaiva sukham. Svalpe sukham nāsti. "Happiness lies in the Great. There is no joy in the trivial."

So the search for God is the search to go beyond the trivial, to attain the Great. bṛṁhati bṛṁhayati ceti brahma. This is the true force of instinct, of Libido, and of evolution, and these cannot be separated from the search for God.

So you may concede that there is stupid religion, there are stupid concepts of God, but God and religion in themselves are not false concepts. These three, irreducible miracles are the unassailable attributes of God. They are the essence of spirituality. Religion is the social expression of Humankind's evolving attempt to approach this Truth.

The Bhāgavata thus says, 
dharmaḥ projjhitaḥ kaitavo'tra paramo nirmatsarāṇāṁ satāṁ.