Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chanting Sanskrit Verses

Chanting Sanskrit Metres in Gaudiya Vaishnavism

After a long hiatus, and having to make a completely new recording at the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama recording studio, there is finally a copy of Chanting Sanskrit Metres in Gaudiya Vaishnavism to be had on line, freely downloadable at Dropbox.

The text which accompanies the recording is being given here for convenience's sake. There may be some differences between this document and the recording, but for the most part it will be the same. Jai Radhe, Jagat.

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Mangalacharan

om
ajñāna-timirāndhasya jñānāñjanā-śalākayā
cakṣur unmīlitaṁ yena tasmai śrī-gurave namaH

nāma-śreṣṭhaṁ manum api śacī-putram atra svarūpaṁ
rūpaṁ tasyāgrajam uru-purim māthurīṁ goṣṭha-vāṭīm
rādhā-kuṇḍaṁ giri-varam aho rādhikā-mādhavāśāṁ
prāpto yasya prathita-kṛpayā śrī-guruṁ taṁ nato’smi

I bow my head again and again to the holy preceptor, through whose most celebrated mercy I have received the best of all names, the initiation mantra, Sri Sachinandan Mahaprabhu, Svarupa, Rupa and his older brother Sanatan, the extensive dominions of Mathurapuri, a dwelling place in the pasturing grounds [of Krishna], Radha Kund, the chief of all mountains, Sri Govardhan, and most pointedly of all, the hope of attaining the lotus feet of Sri Radha Madhava.

Introduction

One of the things that attracts many people to Indian religion and to Vaishnavism in particular is the beauty of the Sanskrit language. One of the most attractive features of Sanskrit is its verse. The complex Sanskrit metres have a majestic sonority that is unmatched in any other language. A Sanskrit verse properly chanted seems to carry an authority that confirms and supports its meaning. In this little article I am going to discuss some features of Sanskrit prosody so that students and devotees can learn how to pronounce and chant Sanskrit verses in the proper manner.

We will start by reviewing Sanskrit pronunciation. Then we will discuss some of the rules of prosody. The word “prosody” means the study of metrical composition, that is to say, the rules for creating verse. Sanskrit verses are written according to strict rules and we will learn some of these rules in this class. Next we will go over the rules for a number of different types of the most popular metre. I will give examples and also tell you where you can find other examples of the same metre in the shastras such as the Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam and the writings of the Six Goswamis.

For help with Sanskrit pronunciation see the Sanskrit pronunciation guide.

Sanskrit verse is written on the basis of long and short syllables. In Sanskrit these are called guru (heavy) and laghu (light). English metres are based on accented syllables, but classical Sanskrit does not have accents like English. Nevertheless, the idea of heavier and lighter syllables can be seen as something similar to accented and unaccented syllables.

Generally, each verse should contain four lines of a predetermined number of syllables, in which the long and short syllables have a fixed order. So, for example, in order to write a Sanskrit verse in the metre known as mālinī, we must start with six short syllables followed by two longs, then another long, followed by short-long-long, short-long-long. So our first job is to learn to distinguish between long and short syllables, otherwise we won’t ever be able to properly pronounce or chant a Sanskrit verse.

Now, how can we distinguish between long and short syllables? In Sanskrit there are only five short vowels: a, i, u, ṛ and ḷ. So in the word ṛṣi, we have two short syllables. All the other vowels—ā, ī, ū, ṝ, e, ai, o, au—are considered to be long. Thus, the word rādhā contains two long syllables, rā-dhā. So, if we wish to correctly pronounce Sanskrit verse, we must be very careful to clearly make a difference between short vowel sounds and long ones. This is especially important for Westerners who are reading transliterated texts to remember.

If a vowel has no macron or line over it, then it is a short vowel and should be pronounced in that way. Exaggerate the shortness and length of the vowels. The distinction must be made clear. Now, this is especially true of the first Sanskrit vowel, a. Westerners who see this letter have a tendency to pronounce it ā. The correct pronunciation is like the “u” as in “sun.”

So in the following verse by Raghunath Das Goswami from Vilāpa-kusumāñjalī (14), written in the previously mentioned mālinī metre,

yad-avadhi mama kācin mañjarī rūpa-pūrvā
vraja-bhuvi bata netra-dvandva-dīptiṁ cakāra
tad-avadhi tava vṛndāraṇya-rājñi prakāmaṁ
caraṇa-kamala-lākṣā-sandidṛkṣā mamābhūt

O Queen of Vrindavan! Ever since a certain manjari named Rupa anointed my eyes with light here in the land of Braj, a deep desire has arisen within me to see the crimson of your lotus feet.

Here each line begins with six short syllables, ya-da-va-dhi ma-ma; vra-ja-bhu-vi-ba-ta, and so on. The whole charm of this verse depends on the correct pronunciation of these six short syllables. If I butcher the pronunciation by pronouncing them all long, yā-dā-vā-dhi mā-mā, or even worse mixing long and short sounds where only the one or the other is called for, the effect is lost.

Now that this is clear, we have something else to learn about long and short syllables. If the vowel is long, it is clear that the syllable is long. However, if a short vowel is followed by a conjunct consonant, it is also considered to be a long syllable for the purposes of prosody. Thus in the word kṛ-ṣna, though the syllable kṛ on its own would normally be considered short, because it is followed by the conjunct consonant ṣna, that is to say, the consonants ṣ and ṇa joined together, the previous short syllable kṛ is considered to be long. In the verse just cited from Vilāpa-kusumāñjali:

yad avadhi mama kācin mañjarī rūpa-pūrvā
vraja-bhuvi bata netra-dvandva-dīptiṁ cakāra

There are a number of examples of this: kācin, netra-dvandva. Short vowels followed by a visarga (the h with a dot under it) and anusvāra (the m with a dot over it, or sometimes under it) are also considered long. Remember that the ten aspirated consonants, kha, gha, cha, jha, ṭha, ḍha, tha, dha, pha, bha are not conjunct consonants, but are simple.

So that is the first important thing to learn: distinguish between your long and short consonants. Exaggerate the length of your long vowels, though you do not have to exaggerate the length of the vowel sound preceding a conjunct consonant. The existence of the extra consonant sound will automatically lengthen the syllable without your having to make any extra effort.

Caesura

Now, the next important thing to learn about in Sanskrit verse is the caesura. Caesura or hiatus, known as yati in Sanskrit, is the natural pause which occurs within a line of poetry. Thus, in a line of eight syllables, you might have a caesura or pause after four syllables. In such short verses there is some irregularity and this pause is not so important. In general, the longer the metre, the more fixed and regular the caesura.

For example, in longer verses such as śardūla-vikrīḍita, which has nineteen syllables to the line, the caesura is especially important. If you stop after five, or ten syllables rather than at the officially prescribed pause after twelve syllables, your recitation will sound choppy and confused. As an example, we will refer once more to the verse from Vilāpa-kusumāñjalī:

yad avadhi mama kācin /
mañjarī rūpa-pūrvā

Here we have fifteen syllables with a caesura after eight. Another example: Take a look at the verse by Raghunath Das from Muktā-carita that was given in the mangalacharana:

nāma śreṣṭhaṁ /
manum api śacī /
putram atra svarūpam

This verse is written in the mandākrāntā metre, which means that it has seventeen syllables to the line, with two caesurae: the first after four syllables, the second after another six. Note that the word śacī-putram, “son of Sachi,” is a compound word, but that the caesura comes in the middle of it.

It is rarer that a single word like śacī or suta on its own will be split by the caesura (śa-cī, su-ta). That is considered pretty bad form. On the other hand, splitting a compound word like śacī-suta is much more common, so watch for that kind of thing.

The second line of the verse also has a permissible irregularity which should be watched for:

rūpaṁ tasyāgrajam uru-puriṁ māthurīṁ goṣṭha-vāṭīm

The words rūpaṁ tasya agrajam have been combined in sandhi and the first letter of agrajam has been joined with the last a of tasya. This is quite permissible, though some poets think that it is not the best style. Some would even consider this to be decadent versification. The Goswamis do it fairly often. However, if you know how to count syllables and recognize where your caesura is supposed to be, you won’t get thrown off by it.

In the older metres, anuṣṭubh, triṣṭubh and jagatī, to which we will be directing our attention shortly, there is some tendency for the caesura to be irregular, even within the same verse. In some other metres also, there may be differences in the way particular authors treat the caesura, though in the longer, more classical meters, they will usually be more consistent than they are in the first few types of metre with which we will be dealing.

As a general rule, it may be said, that there will be a natural pause following a certain number of syllables in each line of the verse. It will usually come at the end of a word and except for a few metres which you are not likely to encounter in standard works, nearly always on a long syllable.

1. anuṣṭubh

Now we can start with some examples of major types of metre. We will begin with the older metres which are the most common in the Puranas and the Mahabharata. Remember that the caesuras in these metres might be irregular. In fact, because these are shorter metres, it might be said that the caesura is less important. So don’t get upset if there appears to be little regularity with anuṣṭubh, triṣṭubh and jagatī.

The first metre we will look at is called anuṣṭubh. It is also known as zloka. Now you may have heard the word śloka being used in connection with any Sanskrit verse; that is not entirely incorrect, but the original meaning is a type of verse which has four lines of eight syllables each.

We find anuṣṭubh verses everywhere. It is one of the most liberal types of metre in its formation and therefore one of the easiest to write. The writer of the anuṣṭubh verse is not obliged to determine the length of every syllable. The first four syllables of each line are totally irregular. The next four syllables have to be either short-long-long-(optional/long) in the first and third lines and short-long-short-(optional/long) in the second and fourth lines. The caesura in the verse is not very important. In this, as well as in triṣṭubh and jagatī, which we will come to presently, the last syllable in a line is often short; even so, it is always counted as a long. So,

dharmakṣetre kurukṣetre
samavetā yuyutsavaḥ
māmakāḥ pāṇḍavāś caiva
kim akurvata sañjaya

long, long, long, long, caesura, short, long, long, long
short, short, long, long, caesura, short, long, short, long.
long, short, long; caesura (after 3 this time); long, short, long, long, short;
short, short, long, short, short. long, short, short.

This is the most familiar of all metres and the easiest to chant. You make the least mistakes chanting precisely because the length of the syllables is not relevant for a great part of each line and the caesura is not important.

So we will chant some verses from canto 1, chapter 2, Srimad-Bhagavatam:

nārāyaṇaṁ namaskṛtya naraṁ caiva narottamam
devīṁ sarasvatīṁ vyāsaṁ tato jayam udīrayet
munayaḥ sādhu pṛṣṭho 'haṁ bhavadbhir loka-maṅgalam
yat kṛtaḥ kṛṣṇa-sampraśno yenātmā suprasīdati
sa vai puṁsāṁ paro dharmo yato bhaktir adhokṣaje
ahaituky apratihatā yayātmā samprasīdati
vāsudeve bhagavati bhakti-yogaḥ prayojitaḥ
janayaty āśu vairāgyaṁ jñānaṁ ca yad ahaitukam
dharmaḥ svanuṣṭhitaḥ puṁsāṁ viṣvaksena-kathāsu yaḥ
notpādayed yadi ratiṁ śrama eva hi kevalam

(2) triṣṭubh

The next kind of verse is called triṣṭubh. Triṣṭubh verses contain eleven syllables to the line. Though not as common as the anuṣṭubh, they are sprinkled throughout the Bhagavad Gita, Mahabharata and of course in the Bhagavata Purana. This metre is found in a primitive and somewhat irregular form in the Ṛg-Veda, the Upanishads, the Brahmanas, etc.

(i) indravajrā and upendravajrā

There are different kinds of of triṣṭubh. The most common of these are indravajrā and upendravajrā. The only difference between these two is that the first syllable is long in the one and short in the other, so the distinction is not particularly important. Most authors like to mix these two metres in one kind of verse which are then called upajāti; that is why we are treating them together here. The metre is thus (first syllable optionally short or long), long, short, long, long, short, short, long, short, long, long.

For devotees, the most familiar verses in this metre in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition are found in Vishwanath Chakravarti’s Gurvaṣṭaka. Many of the verses in this hymn are pure indravajrā, each line beginning with a long syllable, but others in the same aṣṭaka are upajāti, such as nikuñja-yūno rati-keli-siddhyai, which starts with a short. It does not make much difference.

Caesura in this metre is somewhat irregular, usually 5/6, but might be 4/7 or 6/5 and sometimes mixed. In Gurvaṣṭaka we find a regular caesura after five syllables even though it splits words in two. saṁsāra-dāvā nala-līḍha-loka- 5/6 trāṇāya-kāruṇya-ghanāghanatvam 6/5 prāptasya kalyāṇa-guṇārṇavasya 6/5 vande guroḥ śrī caraṇāravindam 5/6

In Bhagavad Gita 2.26, the caesura comes after six syllables. This is an exception, because the last syllable before yati is short:

vāsāṁsi jīrṇāni yathā vihāya
navāni gṛhṇāti naro 'parāṇi.
tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇāny
anyāni saṁyāti navāni dehī

Most of the eleventh chapter, “The Universal Form', is written in an upajāti metre which also includes some elements of another meter called śālinī.

tvam eva mātā ca pitā tvam eva
tvam eva bandhuś ca sakhā tvam eva
tvam eva vidyā draviṇaṁ tvam eva
tvam eva sarvaṁ mama devadeva


kālo ‘smi loka-kṣaya-kṛt pravṛddho
lokān samāhartum iha pravṛttaḥ
ṛte'pi tvāṁ na bhaviṣyanti sarve
ye 'vasthitāḥ pratyanikeṣu yodhāḥ

tasmāt tvam uttiṣṭha yaśo labhasva
jitvā śatrūn bhuṅkṣva rājyaṁ samṛddham
mayaivete nihatāḥ pūrvam eva
nimitta-mātraṁ bhava savyasācin

droṇaṁ ca bhīṣmaṁ ca jayadrathaṁ ca
karṇaṁ tathānyān api yodhavīrān
mayā hatāṁs tān jahi mā vyatiṣṭhā
yudhyasva jetāsi raṇe sapatnān

If you chant indravajrā and upendravajrā verses regularly, you will observe that the caesura is not as important as it will be in the metres of fourteen syllables and more.

(ii) svāgatā and rathoddhatā

There are a number of other kinds of triṣṭubh metres, of which I will give some examples here. svāgatā and rathoddhatā are sister metres. The caesura usually comes after three syllables in these metres, but occasionally after the fourth or the fifth. The first few verses of the 35th chapter of BhP’s tenth canto, known as yugala-gīta are written in svāgatā with caesura after four or five syllables. By the way, the reason that this chapter has this name is because the verses are written in pairs (yugala).

vāma-bāhu-dhṛta-vāma-kapola
valgita-bhrur adharārpita-veṇum
komalāṅgulibhir āśrita-mārgaṁ
gopya īrayati yatra mukundaḥ

vyoma-yāna-vanitāḥ saha siddhair
vismitās tad upadhārya salajjāḥ
kāma-mārgaṇa-samarpita-cittāḥ
kaśmalaṁ yayur apasmṛta-nīvyaḥ

Once again, if you want a consistent caesura, you have to split the words. So it is not so important as in other, longer metres.

(iii) rājahaṁsī

This particular variety of triṣṭubh is has a more regular caesura after six syllables.
Short-short-short, long-short-long long-short-long-short-long

This metre is most noticeably found in the Gopī-gīta, chapter 31 of the rāsa-līlā. It is thus often called indirā.

jayati te’dhikam janmanā vrajaḥ
śrayata indirā śaśvad atra hi
dayita dṛśyatāṁ dikṣu tāvakās
tvayi dhṛtāsavās tvāṁ vicinvate

śarad-udāśaye sādhu-jāta-sat-
sarasijodara-śrī-muṣā dṛśā
suratanātha te śulka-dāsikāḥ
varada nighnato neha kiṁ vadhaḥ

(3) Jagatī Metres. (12 syllables)

The third and last of the primitive Sanskrit metres, by which I mean ones which can be found in very early Sanskrit literature, including the Veda, is called jagatī. This metre has 12 syllables to a line and the caesura can come after 5, 6 or 7 syllables. The primary type of jagatī is an upajāti like that of the triṣṭubh which we have just explained, where the first syllable can be either long or short. So the metre is:
short-long short-long long-short-short-long short-long short-long

with the first syllable optionally long. Much of the Brahma-stava (10.14) is in this metre. The gopis» lament to the creator god or fate (vidhātā), when Akrura comes to take Krishna and Balaram away to Mathura in BhP x.39.19-30, is in this metre.

aho vidhātas tava na kvacid dayā
saṁyojya maitryā praṇayeṇa dehinaḥ
tāṁś cākṛtārthān vinuyaṅkṣy apārthakaṁ
vikrīḍitaṁ te’rbhaka-ceṣṭitaṁ yathā

yas tvaṁ pradarśyāsita-kuntalāvṛtaṁ
mukunda-vaktraṁ sukapolam unnasam
śokāpanoda-smita-keśa-sundaraṁ
karoṣi pārokṣyam asādhu te kṛtam

There are a large number of other jagatī metres. The only one worth mentioning here is druta-vilambita. The most famous example of this metre, which is fairly popular, is in BhP 1.1.3. Caesura is usually prescribed after four, but in this example comes after seven.

nigama-kalpa-taror galitaṁ phalam
śuka-mukhād amṛta-drava-saṁyutam
pibata bhāgavataṁ rasam ālayam
muhur aho rasikā bhuvi bhāvukāḥ

The ripened fruit of the Vedic desire tree made sweeter by the nectar from the mouth of Shuka; this is the Bhagavatam; oh connaisseurs of poetry, oh knowers of the sentiments, drink its juice constantly until the end on your time on this earth.


(4) Vasanta-tilakā

There are a number of thirteen syllabled metres, but I have not found any examples in BhP. One fourteen syllabled metre is very popular throughout Sanskrit kāvya, and is also found frequently in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, especially in the chapters dealing with madhura-rasa. It is called vasanta-tilakā, which means the “the ornament of spring.” From this point on, caesura is much more regular than in the first few examples that have been given. In vasantā, natural caesura after eight syllables is held consistently by all poets.

long-long-short-long short-short-short long
short short long short long long.

dA-dA-da-dA da-da-da-dA
da-da-dA da-dA-dA

Examples are the first madhura-rasa verses in the tenth canto, the pūrva-rāga (x.15.42-43), as well as the veṇu-gīta (x.21.7-19). In rāsa-līlā, the appeal of the gopis to Krishna not to reject them (x.29.31-41) and a few other verses including the last of the rāsa-līlā (x.33.40):

vikrīḍitaṁ vraja-vadhūbhir idaṁ ca viṣṇoḥ
śraddhānvito 'nuśṛṇuyād atha varṇayed vā
bhaktiṁ parām bhagavati pratilabhya kāmaṁ
hṛd-rogam āśv apahinoty acireṇa dhīraḥ

Note that the words apahinoty acireṇa are enjambed on the caesura. Because of sandhi, the ty at the end of apahinoti is read with the following a as a part of acireṇa: hṛd-rogam āśv apahinoty acireṇa dhīraḥ.

Uddhava’s glorification of the gopis (x.47.58-62), RukminI’s letter to Krishna (BhP x.52.37-43), two famous verses in the meeting at Kurukshetra (x.82.40 and CC Antya 4.153) and (x.82.49, CC Madhya 1.81 and 13.136), which we will chant here:

āhuś ca te nalina-nābha padāravindaṁ
yogeśvarair hṛdi vicintyam agādha-bodhaiḥ
saṁsāra-kūpa-patitoddharaṇāvalambaṁ
geha-juṣām api manasy udiyāt sadā naḥ

Verses not in madhura-rasa also, such as the prayers by Kaliya (BhP x.16) and the maGgala prayers to Shukadeva at the beginning of Suta Goswami’s recital (BhP 1.2.2-3) are also in vasanta-tilakā.

yaṁ pravrajantam anupetam apeta-kṛtyam
dvaipāyano viraha-kātara ājuhāva
putreti tan-mayatayā taravo 'bhinedus
taṁ sarva-bhūta-hṛdayaṁ munim ānato ‘smi

This is one of the most popular metres in Sanskrit kāvya. About 40% of Vilāpa-kusumāñjalī, 20% of Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi, 23% of the verse in Ānanda-vṛndāvana-campū, 10% of the verses in Rupa’s plays, is in vasantā. Of the lyric metres, it is second in frequency only to śārdūla-vikrīḍita, which we will be seeing presently.

(5) Longer metres

The next group of metres are primarily found in poetical works. They are completely absent from most puranic literature with the exception of the BhP, which is one of the reasons that the Bhagavata is so special.

(i) Mālinī: “the garlanded woman”

We have already seen an example of mālinī from Raghunath Das’s Vilāpa-kusumāñjalī. It has fifteen syllables to a line with a very clear caesura after eight syllables. It is one of the easiest metres to recognize because each line starts with six short syllables followed by two longs. mālinī is also found in the Bhagavatam, in the section of BhP known as the bhramara-gīta (x.47.12-21). One gopI, usually said to be Radha, is speaking to the bumblebee:

madhupa kitava-bandho mā spṛśāṅghriṁ sapatnyāḥ
kuca-vilulita-mālā-kuṅkuma-śmaśrubhir naḥ
vahatu madhupatis tan-māninīnāṁ prasādaṁ
yadu-sadasi viḍambyam yasya dūtas tvam īdṛk

Elsewhere, this metre is used in the first verse by the mahishis when feeling separation (prema-vaicittya) from Krishna (x.90.15). And again in one of the verses at the very end of the tenth canto, no doubt familiar to you all:

jayati jana-nivāso devakī-janma-vādo
yadu-vara-pariṣat svair dorbhir asyann adharmam
sthira-cara-vṛji-nighnaḥ susmita-śrī-mukhena
vraja-pura-vanitānāṁ vardhayan kāmadevam

Verses of this metre are found scattered throughout the Goswamis» literature, most memorably the Rādhikāṣṭakas of Rupa and Raghunath, many verses of Rupa’s plays, etc.



(ii) Tūṇaka

Another nice metre of fifteen syllables to the line is tūṇaka, which means “an archer’s quiver.” Starts with a long, and then alternating short-long.

kuṅkumākta-kāñcanābja-garva-hāri-gaurabhā
pītanāñcitābja-gandha-kīrti-nindi-saurabhā
vallaveśa-sūnu-sarva-vāñchitārtha-sādhikā
mahyam ātma-pāda-padma-dāsyadāstu rādhikā

karavinda-kānti-nindi-citra-patra-śāṭikā
kṛṣṇa-matta-bhṛṅga-keli-phulla-puṣpa-vāṭikā
kṛṣṇa-nitya-saṅgamārtha-padma-bandhu-rādhikā
mahyam ātma-pāda-padma-dāsyadāstu rādhikā

saukumārya-sṛṣṭa-pallavāli-kīrti-nigrahā
candra-candanotpalendu-sevya-śīta-vigrahā
svābhimarṣa-vallavīśa-kāma-tāpa-bādhikā
mahyam ātma-pāda-padma-dāsyadāstu rādhikā

(iii) Mandākrāntā

The name of this metre translates as “slowly overcome.” This lyrical metre of 17 syllables to the line is very distinctive for having a pronounced caesura at two places on each line. First four longs, caesura, then five shorts and a long, caesura, then long, short-long-long, short-long-long.

dA-dA-dA-dA /
da-da-da-da-da-dA /
dA-da-dA-dA da-dA-dA

This metre was made famous by Kalidas in his Meghadūta. Rupa Goswami’s Uddhava-sandeśa is also in this metre. There are no examples that I know of in BhP. We have already cited Raghunath Das’s verse previously:

nāma-śreṣṭhaṁ manum api śacīputram atra svarūpaṁ
rūpaṁ tasyāgrajam urupurīm māthurīṁ goṣṭhavāṭīm
rādhā-kuṇḍaṁ girivaram aho rādhikā-mādhavāśām
prāpto yasya prathita-kṛpayā śrī-guruṁ taṁ nato ‘smi

Svarupa Damodar’s famous verse describing the three desires of Krishna which lead to his incarnation as Caitanya MahAprabhu, quoted in CC Adi 1.6, is in this metre.

śrī-rādhāyāḥ pranaya-mahimā kīdṛśo vānayaivā-
svādyo yenādbhuta-madhurimā kīdṛśo vā madīyaḥ
saukhyaṁ cāsyā mad-anubhavataḥ kīdṛśaṁ veti lobhāt
tad-bhāvāḍhyaḥ samajani śacī-garbha-sindhau harīnduḥ

(iv) Śikhariṇī

This lyrical metre of 17 syllables to the line with caesura after six syllables is also very distinctive. Once again there are no examples that I know of in BhP. Krishna Das Kaviraja’s famous maṅgala verse to Chaitanya is in this metre:

yad advaitaṁ brahmopaniṣadi tad apy asya tanubhā
ya ātmāntaryāmī puruṣa iti so» syāṁśa-vibhavaḥ
ṣaḍaiśvaryaiḥ pūrṇo ya iha bhagavān sa svayam ayaṁ
sa caitanyāt kṛṣṇāj jagati paratattvaṁ param iha

The first six syllables contain one short and then five longs. After the caesura there is a run of five short syllables before ending the line with two longs, three shorts and a long.

da-dA-dA-dA-dA-dA
da-da-da-da-da-dA-dA da-da-da-dA

Rupa and Raghunath’s Caitanyāṣṭakas are in this metre. Rupa Goswami’s Haṁsadūta contains 142 verses in śikhariṇī metre.

(iv) Pṛthvī

Pṛthvī is another metre of 17 syllables to the line which is comparatively less used than the two previously mentioned. One well-known stanza makes it worth mentioning, however. That is the following verse from Vidagdha-mādhava by Rupa Goswami which is found in the mangala verses of Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Adi 1.4).

anarpita-carīṁ cirāt karuṇayāvatīrṇaḥ kalau
samarpayitum unnatojjvala-rasāṁ sva-bhakti-śriyam
hariḥ puraṭa-sundara-dyuti-kadamba-sandīpitaḥ
sadā hṛdaya-kandare sphuratu vaḥ śacī-nandanaḥ

This 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, he came in this Age of Quarrel to distribute this treasure to the world, becoming incarnate in his golden form. The son of Sachi is like a lion; may he dwell in your hearts forever.

The caesura is after eight syllables. There is no clear grouping of longs and shorts together as is usually found in the longer metres. Even so, the rhythm is clear and distinctive:
short-long-short, short-long-short, short-long, caesura,
short-short-short, long-short-long, long-short-long.

da-dA da-da-dA da-da-dA da-da-da-dA da-dA-dA da-dA

(v) Nardaṭaka

There is another rarer metre with 17 syllables. Outside of BhP, I have never seen it used anywhere but in Ānanda-vṛndāvana-campū and once in Mādhava-mahotsava. But since an important chapter of BhP is written in this metre, I thought that I would mention it here. The chapter is BhP 10.87, the Veda-stuti, and the verses 14 to 41 are written in nardaṭaka metre.

This metre again has lots of short syllables, but broken up frequently with longs. Starts with four shorts, long short long, caesura after seven, three shorts, long-short-short, long-short-short-long.

da-da-da-da-dA da-dA /
da-da-da-dA da-da-dA da-da-dA

The best known example of this is verse 23, which is quoted twice in CC (Madhya 8.224, 9.123) where the Vedas say that they too worship Krishna in the mood of the gopis:

nibhṛta-marun-mano 'kṣa-dṛḍha-yoga-yujo hṛdi
yan munaya upāsate tad arayo 'pi yayuḥ smaraṇāt
striya urugendra-bhoga-bhuja-daṇḍa-viṣakta-dhiyo
vayam api te samāḥ samadṛśo 'ṅghri-saroja-sudhāḥ

Caesura after seven. There is one irregularity in the metre of this particular verse. The word, bho-ga, in the third line has been split over the caesura. But then, BhP is rather tolerant of irregularities...

(vi) Śārdūla-vikrīḍita.

Śārdūla-vikrīḍita is quite a common metre despite being one of the longest. Its name means “the play of the lion.” It is a lyric metre very much favoured by classical poets and verses such as yaḥ kaumāra-haraḥ, etc., are in this metre.

To give you an idea of the popularity of śārdūla, in the collection of poetry compiled by Sridhara Pandit, a contemporary of Jayadeva Goswami, 44% of the 2380 stanzas are in this metre, that is more than a thousand. Jayadeva himself uses it frequently in Gita Govinda and there are literally hundreds of examples to be found in the plays of Rupa and the campūs of Jīva and Kavi Karṇapūra. There are nineteen syllables to the line. Caesura is invariably after 12.
Long-long-long short-short-long short-long short-short-short-long /
Long-long-short long-long-short long:

dA-dA-dA da-da-dA-da-dA da-da-da-dA /
dA-dA-da-dA-dA da-dA

Only a couple of examples are to be found in BhP, however, though these are, appropriately enough, at its beginning and end. Thus, the janmādy asya verse is in this metre, as is dharmaḥ projjhitaḥ kaitavo 'tra. The mangala verse to the concluding chapter of the Bhagavatam, used as one of the prayers to be chanted before reciting Bhagavad Gita, is as follows:

yaṁ brahmā-varuṇendra-rudra-marutāḥ stunvanti divyaiḥ stavaiḥ
vedaiḥ sāṅga-pada-kramopaniṣadair gāyanti yaṁ sāmagāḥ
dhyānāvasthita-tad-gatena manasā paśyanti yaṁ yogino
yasyāntaṁ na viduḥ surāsura-gaṇā devāya tasmai namaḥ

Another noteworthy verse in this metre is found in BhP x.14.35 from Brahma-stava.

eṣāṁ ghoṣa-nivāsinām uta bhavān kiṁ deva rāteti naś
ceto viśva-phalāt phalaṁ tvad-aparaṁ kutrāpy ayan muhyati
sad-veṣād iva pūtanāpi sakulā tvām eva devāpitā
yad-dhāmārtha-suhṛt-priyātma-tanaya-prāṇāśayās tvat-kṛte

(vii) Srag-dharā

Sragdharā (“wearing the garland”) is the longest lyrical metre used in Sanskrit poetry. There are longer metres, but they are very rarely used. This is again a very distinctive metre with caesura after each group of seven syllables. The first group in each line has mostly long syllables, the second mostly short, the third primarily long again. Thus:

dA-dA-dA-dA da-dA-dA da-da-da-da-da-da-dA /
dA-da-dA-dA da-dA-dA

Thus, in Krishna Das Kaviraj’s (or Rupa Goswami’s, depending on whose authority you accept) Rādhā-kṛṣṇayor aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā-smaraṇa-maṅgala-stotram.

śrī-rādhā-prāṇa-bandhoś caraṇa-kamalayoḥ keśa-śeṣādy-agamyā
yā sādhyā prema-sevā vraja-carita-parair gāḍha-laulyaika-labhyā
sā syāt prāptā yayā tāṁ prathayitum adhunā mānasīm asya sevāṁ
bhāvyāṁ rāgādhva-panthair vrajam anu caritaṁ naityikaṁ tasya naumi


Conclusion

So to conclude, if you wish to get full enjoyment from learning to read and chant Sanskrit verse, you should try to master the intricacies of Sanskrit metres. Especially if you want to memorize verses, it is a good idea to analyze carefully the caesurae and so on. This will often help, not only in chanting the verse, but also in understanding it, as the meaning and the verse structure are often related. We have gone over some of the major ones here. There are, of course, many others, especially the song metres of Jayadeva and the āryā metres which are very much liked by Rupa in his plays and are also found in great quantities in Jīva Goswami’s Gopāla-campū. These will have to wait for another occasion.

If you wish to have a copy of the tape, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line. I can be reached on email at jankbrz@yahoo.com. In the meantime, enjoy the nectar of the Bhagavatam: pibata bhāgavataṁ rasam ālayam.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Chitra Sakhi's Dream

Krishna spies on Radha while she is being bathed.
Radha is being bathed in the morning. All the sakhis and manjaris are around her, doing their different sevas. Someone is oiling her hair. Others are massaging different creams into her skin, some are putting perfumes in the water or preparing the clothes and ornaments that she will wear afterward.

Lalita comes to where Radha is sitting on a velvet covered bench and tells her that Chitra has had a very strange dream. "Wait till you hear it, it will really make you laugh!" And she starts to recount it to Radharani.

In the dream Chitra has suddenly found herself in a beautiful garden somewhere by the Yamuna, but she does not know where or how she got there. She is completely alone and is looking for Shyamasundar. But who can she ask? There is no one there.

She starts to go a little mad and starts asking the elements to help her find him. One by one, she asks the air, the ether, water, earth and fire to help, since they are all-pervading and will know where Krishna is. She asks the air, but there is no answer. No one answers.

After going through all the elements, she begins to  feel hopeless and abandoned because she still hasn't seen her Shyamsundar. But then she suddenly sees five effulgent devatas standing by the river ghat.

She asks them who they are and they tell her they are the respective gods of the elements. They say that they have heard her call and come to her for her darshan.

So Chitra says, "Never mind all that, just tell me where is Shyamasundar?"

And they say, "We don't know. We do not have the power to see him."

Chitra: "Well that is a fine help!"

"Ordinarily, we cannot even see you gopis, but since you have called us, we are here. If you give us the dust of your feet, we will smear it on our eyes and then maybe we can find him for you."

"How is that? I can't find him myself and somehow my dust is going to help you find him? Doesn't make sense."

She is confused and backs away, so they come and take the dust anyway and smear it over their eyes. Then they roll in the dust, so that Chitra thinks they are completely crazy. and a few minutes later they come back and say, "He is just now coming." Then they disappear.

And suddenly Shyamasundar appears with a big smile on his face. Chitra says, "Where on earth have you been? What's the deal, leaving me all alone here by my lonesome?"

Krishna answers, "I was at the temple of Tripura Sundari, doing puja."

"What did you go there for?"

It takes some cajoling, but finally Krishna starts to tell her.

“Yesterday, I was watching as you all dressed Radha and I began to think. Radha's body is so soft and delicate that even the weight of the flower garland must bruise it. The sharp corners of her sari must scratch her and irritate her where she is so tender. The jewels are also heavy and unpleasant, what to speak of all the unguents and mascara that must be such an annoyance. One by one, all these concerns began to trouble me.

“I know she does all this for me, just to give me pleasure, but it is not really necessary. In fact, these clothes and makeup and jewelry are only fulfilling their own existence by being placed on her body. She does not really need them to make herself more beautiful for me.

“If I were to tell her to stop putting all this stuff on, I know she will do it just because I ask. But then, if she starts going around naked, people will really think she has gone completely crazy! They will lock her away inside the house and then she will really be in trouble. She will go sick from separation and die very soon.
Tripura Sundari

“I fell into a quandary, wondering what can I do? I could not sleep all night, so this morning I went to Devi's temple and began to pray.

“Tripura Sundari kindly appeared to me and said, ‘What is the trouble Shyam?’

“So I asked her, ‘Bhagavati, what is the softest thing in the world?’

“And Bhagavati said, smiling, ‘Why Shyam, there is nothing softer or more delicate in the entire universe than you and Radha!’”

So Krishna started thinking, “Aha! If I could just enter into all the things that Radha puts on, if I become her mascara, if I become her blouse, her sari, the alta on her feet, then all those things will become soft and more bearable for her, and they will cease to cause her any suffering.”

So Krishna said to Tripura Sundari, "You told me that I was the softest thing, so now you have to give me the power to enter all the hard things so there is no disturbance for Radha."



Interlude: This reminds me of some verses in Dana-keli-kaumudi:

Vrinda says:
Your body is soft and golden as ghee,
so why are you carrying the heavy jug of ghee?
Your head is meant to carry nothing heavier than
a locket of jasmine flowers— and even that would give you pain.
So please be kind and let me carry it for you. (21)
Radha: It’s not the weight of the jug that is slowing me down. Look at all these jewels I am wearing. I told Lalita not to put them on me, but she wouldn’t listen to me.

Visakha: Sakhi Radhe! Stand still for a second. I will help take some of this excessive jewelry off. (Starts doing so.)

Vrinda:
trapate vilokya padmā
lalite rādhāṁ vināpy alaṅkāram |
tad alaṁ maṇimaya-maṇḍana-
maṇḍala-racanā-prayāsena ||
The lotus flowers are still mocked by Radha’s natural beauty,
even when she is not bedecked with jewels and finery.
So you are right, all this effort
to dress and decorate her are a waste of time. (22)
This is the inner beauty called rūpam that does not require external decorations:

aṅgāny abhūṣitāny eva kenacid bhūṣaṇādinā |
yena bhūṣitavad bhāti tad rūpam iti kathyate ||
Rüpa is defined as “that quality by which a woman appears to be fully bedecked with all varieties of ornaments when in fact she is not.” (UN 10.25)
This is also a good meditation for ladies who are addicted to shopping for cosmetics and designer clothing and shoes. Your beauty, dear ladies, as a spark of Radharani, is the glow inside, not the cosmetics and fantasy jewelry outside!

Krishna's prayer to Devi is very long. He asks to become the ground on which Radha walks, to soften it for her and so on. Everything that is hard or rough or sharp, he wants to soften for her. It is Krishna’s version of the famous yat te sujāta verse:

yat te sujāta-caraṇāmbu-ruhaṁ staneṣu
bhītāḥ śanaiḥ priya dadhīmahi karkaśeṣu
tenāṭavīm aṭasi tad vyathate na kiṁ svit
kūrpādibhir bhramati dhīr bhavad-āyuṣāṁ naḥ
O dearly beloved! Your lotus feet are so soft that we, whose lives rests only in you, fear they will be hurt when we place them gently on our breasts, so we do it so carefully. Our minds, therefore, are filled with anxiety that these tender feet might be wounded by pebbles as you roam about on the forest path. (10.31.19)
When we timorously place your noble lotus feet on our breasts, which we fear are so rough, we think, “Have these feet not suffered enough from the sharp stones on the forest pathways?” And these thoughts make us dizzy because we have given our lives over to you completely (10.31.19).

There is another old verse in Padyavali, where Radha in separation says, "OK, I am going to die. No problem. If that is what God wants, that I should die in separation from Krishna, so be it. But I do ask that he grant me the following:

pañcatvaṁ tanur etu bhūta-nivahāu svāṁśe viśantu sphuṭaṁ
dhātāraṁ praṇipatya hanta śirasā tatrāpi yāce varam |
tad-vāpīṣu payas tadīya-mukure jyotis tadīyāṅgana-
vyomni vyoma tadīya-vartmani dharā tat-tāla-vṛnte’nilaḥ ||
O Master of my Destiny, I fall down and place my head at your feet,
praying to you to give me this benediction:
Let this body die and all its elements be mixed with the cosmic elements;
let the water of my body mix with the lake where Krishna bathes,
its light enter his mirror, to serve him when he beholds his reflection,
its ether merge with his courtyard, to surround him when he walks, talks or yawns,
may the earth in my body enter the ground upon which he walks
and the life air itself enter the palm-leaf fan used to relieve him from the heat.
So, Krishna is somewhat similarly praying to Devi for the power to enter all those things, so that the moment anything rough or hard or sharp touches her, he will soften the touch for her. So it is like a meditation. He is doing a sadhana of yoga meditation to be there IN the thing when it is going on her body.

End interlude.



Chitra is interrupted by Lalita’s arrival (I did not mention that Lalita left on some errand and told Chitra to finish the story herself) and so is silent for a moment. Radha is curious about the rest of the story, and pressures her, "Well, what happened then?"

In the dream, Chitra is also saying, "Well, what did Devi say to that?"

So Krishna tells Chitra, "Well, she said 'so be it'"

Chitra, "Really, did she? You're not just joking? "

"No seriously. She has given me this power.”

So Chitra says, "Shyam, dear one! I know that you love all of us sakhis along with Radha. So will you please from time to time become our ornaments and clothes as well? We know that your heart is very soft and so you would do this for us.

“But, more importantly, when you do so, will you give us a sign, especially when we are dressing Radha, so that we treat these ornaments and so on with extra care so as not to hurt you? We are always tossing these things around and dropping them. If you are present there then, surely you will suffer. And of course if we are giving you pain in any way, that will be disastrous for all of us."

Krishna just stares at Chitra, which makes her laugh nervously.

“What are you looking at? Listen, I was going crazy just a minute ago because I did not see you. And now you are staring at me like that?”

And she tells him the story of the five gods and concludes by asking Shyam, "Where are we anyway? What is this place? And where is Radha. And how did you know I was here anyhow?”

Krishna does not answer. He just hugs Chitra and at that very moment she wakes up in amazement.

Now Radha reacts to Chitra's story. She starts looking this way and that. She forgets that Chitra has been talking about a dream and thinks it is reality. She thinks, "Shyam loves me so much that he wants to be the ornaments on my body!" She immediately thinks Krishna is in her things. She starts seeing Krishna in everything, in every atom.

At this point, the preparations for the bath are complete and now they are going to bathe Radha. But Radha is completely in trance and immobile. Finally Lalita manages to brings her back to awareness by telling her that Dhanishtha has come and she has to go cook at Yashoda's house.

And all this while Krishna has been spying on Radha.

Meanwhile, Krishna is over by the kitchen, hiding and watching.




Radha Baba (1913-1992) was a devotee of Mahaprabhu and Radha-Krishna who lived in Gorakhpur. Though he did not openly preach, he wrote several devotional books. The above is roughly adapted from his book Keli-Kuñja (in Hindi, केलि-कुञ्ज), originally written in 1942-43, in which he recounts his visualizations of Radha-Krishna līlā. This book is available from the Shri Krishna Janma Sthan and Gita Vatika Prakashan, Gorakhpur. This is called svārasikī līlā smaraṇa of a nitya-līlā, but original to Radha Baba.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Chandravali, the compliant

In the viṣkambhaka (or introductory interlude) of Dāna-keli-kaumudī, Vrinda Devi speaks a couple of verses in glorification of Radha. She starts out with an expression of humility,

anālocya vrīḍāṁ yam iha bahu mene bahu-tṛṇaṁ
tyajann īrṣāpannāṁ madhuripur abhīṣṭām api ramām |
janaḥ so’yaṁ yasyāḥ śrayati na hi dāsye’py avasaraṁ
samarthas tāṁ rādhāṁ bhavati bhuvi kaḥ ślāghitum api ||

Even though to give me honor,
the enemy of Madhu shamelessly
abandoned the Lakshmi Devi he cherishes,
like nothing more than so much grass,
despite her jealousy,
I have never had the opportunity to serve Radha.
Who then on this earth can possibly praise her adequately?
(DKK 11)
Vrinda Devi appears to be refering to her marriage to Shalagram in the form of Tulasi Devi, with whom she is identified. Here, though, she shows that like Radha's other sakhis, despite their own personal glorious attainments, she has put aside any such claims in order to give recognition to Radha’s vast superiority. What is being spoken of here is Rādhā-dāsya, for who can glorify Radha better than one who is her dāsī?

After humbly expressing this inadequacy, Vrinda Devi goes ahead anyway and makes an attempt to glorify the Queen of Vrindavan in the following verse:


rādhāyā mukha-maṇḍalena balinā candrasya padmasya vā
vyākṣiptā suṣameti keyam abudhaiḥ ślāghā vinirmīyate |
yad dūre’py anubhūya bhūyasi sudhā-śuddhāpi candrāvalī
padmālī ca visṛjya śīryati nijāṁ saundarya-darpa-śriyam ||

It seems that the charms of the moon and the lotus flower
are merely the reflections of Radha’s perfectly proportioned face,
and so the less intelligent praise them.
But as soon as they feel her presence, even from afar,
Chandravali, who is compared to a multitude of moons,
and her friend Padma, compared to an entire garden of lotuses,
both of whom are filled with spotless nectarean charms,
wither in shame, losing any pride they had in their own beauty.
And so indeed it should be. The pride we have in our own virtues should always be tempered by the knowledge that they are tiny fragments, at best, of the divine splendor. Since Radha is Krishna's complete potency, all other women, whoever they are, are but fractions of her splendor.

And indeed, Chandravali is just another aspect of Radha, in the sense that Radha represents in Shri Rupa Goswami’s mind, the original erotic lover in her perfect state, the full form of the hlādinī śakti, whose portions and expansions are the other gopis, the queens of Dvārakā, the countless Lakshmis, worldly goddesses and indeed all forms of feminine beauty and virtue. Radha expresses love as it would be the most perfectly enjoyed by Krishna. Even more than this, in Rupa Goswami's vision (as with all the rasika sampradāyas of Vrindavan), Radha is unequalled and Krishna in fact neither wants, needs, nor even knows any other lover but her.

Chandravali always loses

One of the features of Krishna that the Vaishnava tradition inherits from the rāsa-līlā of the Bhāgavatam and most other sources is that he is the Supreme Male, and that his consorts are unlimited in number -- śriyaḥ kānṭāḥ kāntaḥ parama-puruṣaḥ. In the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi, Rupa Goswami follows the classical nāṭya-śāstra texts by describing in the first two chapters the nāyaka, i.e., the male romantic lead (Krishna) and his male companions (sahāya). Krishna is here described in somewhat abbreviated form, specifically in relation to the romantic dramas of Vrindavan. This is because Rupa has already gone into great detail in his previous works, Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta and Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, to classify and describe Bhagavān's forms and qualities in his broader manifestations.

The next seven chapters of Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi are devoted to the feminine roles in Vrindavan's romantic comedy. Krishna's innumerable consorts are described according to the Puranic model in the third chapter, but in the fourth, Rupa establishes the unequaled supremacy of Radha. And this, of course, is how the Vrindavan schools differ from earlier Vaishnavism.

The chapter begins as follows:


tatrāpi sarvathā śreṣṭhe rādhā-candrāvalīty ubhe |
yūthayos tu yayoḥ santi koṭi-saṅkhyā mṛgīdṛśaḥ ||
abhūd ākulito rāsaḥ pramadā-śata-koṭibhiḥ |
puline yāmune tasminn ity eṣāgamikī prathā ||
tayor apy ubhayor madhye rādhikā sarvathādhikā
mahābhāva-svarūpeyaṁ guṇair ativarīyasī ||

Of all the gopis beloved of Krishna, Radha and Chandravali excel, and each has millions of supporters in her yūtha. The rāsa-līlā took place on the banks of the Yamuna with hundreds of millions of gopis, according to the tradition found in the Agama literature. Of the two, however, Radha is in all respects superior. She is the very embodiment of mahābhāva and excels in all the virtues. (UN 4.1-3)
And this complete superiority of Radha over Chandravali, and indeed any other apparent competitor, will be emphasized over and over again:


tāvad bhadrā vadati caṭulaṁ phullatām eti pālī
śālīnatvaṁ tyajati vimalā śyāmalāhaṅkaroti |
svairaṁ candrāvalir api calaty unnamayyottamāṅgaṁ
yāvat karṇe na hi niviśate hanta rādheti mantraḥ ||

Shyamala herself says, “Alas, it is only for as long as the mantra composed of Radha’s name does not enter her ears that Bhadra can flatter herself, or Pali can remain puffed up [in her own achievements and virtues], that Vimala can reject modest behavior, or that I, Shyamala, can be proud. And Chandravali can only walk around with her head proudly held up high for as long as she does not hear the name of Radha. (UN 6.7)
What is interesting and should be noted here is that originally Chandravali is another name for Radha in the texts preceding Rupa Goswami, such as Gopāla-vijaya, Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana, and perhaps elsewhere. Rupa Goswami obviously felt need to splinter the one Radha into many different forms, which are the other nāyikās in the pastime. In the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi, a total of 360 such nāyikā personalities are depicted (UN 5.102). All of them are contained within Radha, including Chandravali, since Radha is the complete form of the svarūpa-śakti and mahā-bhāva. But it might be said that broadly two divisions could be made in this overall categorization--vāmā (headstrong) and dakṣiṇā (compliant). Radha is the former, Chandravali the latter.

Chandravali's dramatic purpose

For some critics who look at Krishna's līlās as though they are a kind of moral tale, the character of Chandravali is a problem. She seems two-dimensional and her only purpose to act as a foil. Even though some character description is given, she she seems to be there only to provide background, acting merely as a necessary contrast where she is always supposed to lose, and on whom the brushstrokes of Radha's supremacy are then painted in.

Chandravali and her friends like Padma are generally mocked and made fun of like the members of an out-group in a society of high school girls, who sometimes seem to try to outdo each other in being mean.

The Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi even devotes a full chapter to such rivalries, which are between yūtheśvarīs, who would be the leaders of such in-groups. The category of yūtheśvarī, by the way, seems to be original to this text. Rupa Goswami classifies these girls according to their good fortune, etc. (saubhāgya, which Jiva glosses as the extent to which the nāyaka or male hero, in this case Krishna, responds to them, saubhāgyaṁ nāyaka-premṇā labdhādaratvam) and their verbal skills (pragalbha-vākyā).

Krishna with Chandravali in the temple at Rathor.
The latter skill demonstrates the role of these rivalries as a dramatic (or comic) device, since the superior yūtheśvarī is one who is most competent in the thrust and parry of verbal duels and always able to get in the last word (durlaṅghya-bhāṣitā), the quick put-down. So, in these duels, as they are described in plays such as Vidagdha-mādhava, Radha and her friends inevitably get the upper hand and make fools of their rivals, Chandravali and Padma.

Rupa Goswami works a little harder at developing Chandravali’s character than the other gopis, and she specifically plays the role of Radha's chief rival. Their difference is more than just superficial however. You could say, there are distinct philosophical differences between the two.

In the ninth chapter of Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi, Rupa Goswami gives a nice example of an indirect exchange between Radha and Chandravali, in which they use rather strong language to show the difference in their attitudes.

The following verse spoken by Radha has a double meaning running throughout, as so often based on a pun of Chandravali's name ("many moons") [but which this translation does not attempt to convey]:


yā madhyastha-padena saṅkulatarā śuddhā prakṛtyā jaḍā
vaidagdhī-nalinī-nimīlana-paṭur doṣāntarollāsinī
āśāyāḥ sphuraṇaṁ harer janayituṁ yuktātra candrāvalī
sāpi syād iti locayan sakhi janaḥ kaḥ soḍhum īṣṭe kṣitau

Chandravali has an ambiguous attitude; she tries to cover all bases; her approach to love is simple-minded; I think she is naturally dumb. She makes the lotus of expertise in pleasing a man wither up and die, and what is more, she delights in these flaws. And yet, somehow she is being engaged in trying to bring life to Krishna’s hopes! Sakhi, on seeing this, is there anyone on earth who can stand for it? (UN 9.48)
And Chandravali's answer to that (speaking to a sakhi who is telling her to be more like Radha), using a parallel metaphor, is:


ṣoḍaśyās tvam uḍor vimuñca sahasā nāmāpi vāmāśaye
tasyā durvinayair muner api manaḥ śāntātmanaḥ kupyati |
dhig goṣṭhendra-sute samasta-guṇināṁ maulau vrajābhyarcite
pādānte patite’pi naiva kurute bhrū-kṣepam apy atra yā

Stop trying to persuade me to be meaner to Krishna! And don’t even mention the name of that other gopi, what to speak of comparing her to the full moon with all its sixteen phases. Her wicked behavior would enrage even a tranquil-hearted monk. Fie on her! The prince of Gokula, the most virtuous of the virtuous, who is worshiped by all the people of Vraja, falls down at her feet, and yet she does not even move her eyebrows to acknowledge his presence! (9.49)

Madhu-sneha, ghṛta-sneha

In fact, the difference between Chandravali and Radha's attitudes to love is not simply a dramatic device, but seems to have didactic purpose also. The theme is somewhat central the 14th chapter, where the different sthāyi-bhāvas are discussed. I would like to go into more detail here, but this article is already getting long. Suffice it to say that in the hierarchy of basic loving attitudes or sthāyi-bhāvas, Rupa Goswami starts to distinguish between Radharani and Chandravali at the second stage, named sneha and this continues on in māna and praṇaya. Of course it is in māna that the distinction between the headstrong and the compliant lovers is strongest, as indicated in the above examples from UN 9.


The important point to retain, of course, is that Radharani wins. She is the one who is able to win Krishna's heart, precisely because she dominates over him. 


In the beginning of the Ujjvala, Rupa Goswami cited several verses that indicate that for an attractive man who has the ability to seduce any woman in the world, the one who presents a challenge to him will be more attractive than one who is easily attained. But Radha's māna is not just a matter of playing hard to get, it is a matter of vātsalya, in the sense that she knows what is best for Krishna. She will take no nonsense, precisely because she knows it is not good for him. It won't make him happy.


When Jayadeva depicts Krishna abandoning the other gopis to run after Radha because she holds the rope that binds him to his desires, it is exactly this that is being said. Radha is telling him to stop thinking he is God and to accept that he needs her and that without her he cannot survive. If he truly wants to plunge to the depths of his being as Love, he must surrender. Chandravali can give herself, but that touch of compliance, of surrender to him, and the inability to come to that stage of self-confidence where she can subjugate Krishna completely, is lacking.

Rupa Goswami's preference for drama

Rupa Goswami explains that these different attitudes, rivalries and competition for Krishna's love are a source of pleasure for him.


saṁmohanasya kandarpa-vṛndebhyo’py agha-vidviṣaḥ
mūrto narma-priya-sakhaḥ śṛṅgāro vartate vraje
kṣipen mitho vijātīya-bhāvayor eṣa pakṣayoḥ
īrṣyādīn sva-parivārān yoge sva-preṣṭha-tuṣṭaye
ata eva hi viśleṣe snehas tāsāṁ prakāśate ||

One of the intimate friends of the enemy of Aghasura, who is more enchanting than all the gods of love, is śṛṅgāra-rasa, who has taken human form and lives in Vraja. Envy and these other conflicting states of mind are his expansions. He is the one who thrusts the various gopis into these conflicting states of mind for the sake of his dear Krishna's satisfaction. Therefore when the gopis are separated from Krishna, they feel affection for each other. (9.42-43)
The example he gives is taken from Lalita-mādhava (3.39). After Krishna has left for Mathura, Radha and her friends search Vrindavan in disbelief, convinced that he is still hiding there somewhere. At Govardhan, Radha catches sight of her reflection in a pond and, thinking it to be Chandravali, appeals to her in the following words:


sāndraiḥ sundari vṛndaśo hari-pariṣvaṅgair idaṁ maṅgalaṁ
dṛṣṭaṁ te hata-rādhayāṅgam anayā diṣṭyādya candrāvali
drāg enāṁ nihitena kaṇṭham abhitaḥ śīrṇena kaṁsa-dviṣaḥ
karṇottaṁsa-sugandhinā nija-bhuja-dvandvena sandhukṣaya

O Chandravali! How fortunate I am to see you! Up to now, it has been a most inauspicious day. How many times Krishna held you tightly in his arms. Quickly, water my thirsty soul by wrapping your arms, which still carry the fragrance of Krishna's flower ear ornaments, around my neck. (9.44)
Chandravali's purpose as a competitor to Radha is not simply to give pleasure to Krishna, but also to give pleasure to the devotees. The rasa is in the meeting of the ideal with the ideal. As Kaviraja Goswami puts it:


rādhā kāñcana-vallī
phullā kṛṣṇaḥ phulla-tāpiñchaḥ |
anayor saṅgama-lakṣmī
sukhayati na hi kaṁ sa-cetanaṁ lokam ||

Radha is a blossoming golden creeper, Krishna a blossoming tamal tree. What conscious being anywhere [in the universe] would not be pleased by seeing their glorious union? (GLA 11.18)
So this is clearly the dramatic purpose. What can be done? Chandravali really is nothing more than background. She stands in for everyone else. Like Brahma and Shiva compared to Vishnu or Krishna, her function is to serve the plot.


dvau sva-pakṣa-vipakṣākhyau bhedāv eva rasa-pradau ||

The distinction of two groups who are either allies or rivals lends to the experience of rasa. (UN 9.41)
hari-priya-jane bhāvā dveṣādyā nocitā iti |
ye vyāharanti te jñeyā a-pūrva-rasikāḥ kṣitau ||

Those who say that the rivalries between different competitors for Krishna’s love is improper should be recognized as really having no sense of rasa. (UN 9.41)
This latter verse, with its use of the slight a-pūrva-rasikāḥ (“unprecedented connoisseurs of rasa”) has annoyed devotees and scholars in the nitya-vihāra schools and is one of the principal objections to the Gaudiya Vaishnava system. For the nitya-vihāra schools there is no possibility of competition with Radha and they feel no need for such drama. And indeed, the Gaudiyas recognize it as a theatrical ploy meant to enhance the experience of rasa. Rupa Goswami’s approach is not purely theological. We will discuss this further below.

To each their due

Nevertheless, despite his consistent placing of Radha in the position of supremacy, Rupa Goswami of what to do with Chandravali within the bounds of the Krishna līlā. He notes again the oft-repeated general rule that is applied:


yasyā yādṛśa-jātīyaḥ kṛṣṇe premābhyudañcati |
tasyāṁ tādṛśa-jātīyaḥ sa kṛṣṇasyāpy udīyate ||

When a particular type of love for Krishna awakens in a devotee, then the very same genre of love awakens in Krishna as well. (UN 14.62)
This also implies that Krishna reciprocates with all exactly according to their desire and so fulfills it.

This then makes it possible to say that even though Chandravali is in an eternally losing competition with Radha, she is still satisfied with the results:


rādhāyāḥ sakhi sad-guṇair anudinaṁ rūpānurāgādibhiḥ
sāndrāṁ labdhavator api vyasanitāṁ vyākṣipta-kāntāntaraiḥ |
prāpa kvāpi parasparopari yayor na mlānatāṁ yas tayos
taṁ candrāvali-candrakābharaṇayoḥ ko vetti bhāva-kramam ||

Vrinda says to Kundalata: O sakhi! Who can understand the workings of love in Chandravali and the wearer of the peacock crown, whose love for each other never diminishes even as Radha’s virtues, such as her beauty and love, grow day by day, attracting Krishna’s heart and increasing his love for her, while at the same time becoming a source of distress to Chandravali and diminishing her. (UN 14.65)
God reciprocates with all according to their desire and according to their degree of devotional intensity. And by the same token, each will be satisfied according to that desire. Chandravali is also receiving her due, and if God is merciful, would always be completely satisfied with whatever role she is given. At least Rupa Goswami feels it necessary to account for that. After all, if she is one of the two finalists in the Krishna-dearmost sweepstakes, then surely the omnipotent Krishna has some place for her!

Since Radha is beloved of Krishna, how can anyone comparable to her for him? Purely as a matter of love: If you love your wife, then your mutual love will both enhance her beauty and simultaneously your perception of it. In such circumstances, who would you compare to her? Your love would exclude all possibility of comparison.

Is Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi a nāṭya-śāstra text (i.e., one dealing with theater) or a theological one? The nāṭya-śāstra was developed by Bharata Muni as a compendium of the performing arts. Its purpose was to be encyclopedic: to present the gamut of human emotions and reduce them to individual personality types, the situations in which they appeared, the ways in which they would be revealed in body language, and most important of all, how to produce the intended sentiments in the audience.


The Dramatis Personae as Archetypes

Rupa Goswami was a poet before he was a theologian. And yet he noticed something about religion in general and about Krishna devotion in particular that was, perhaps obvious in the Indian context, but had never before been developed. That was the similarity between devotional religion and the dramatic arts. Some adjustments had to be made, some major differentiations had to be made, but on the whole, the two systems – that of devotional religion and that of the dramatic arts – could be synthesized. The Bhāgavatam puts highest emphasis on hearing the pastimes (līlā, caritra), and the result of hearing it is rasa or sentiment.

I obviously cannot give a complete analysis here of all that Rupa did. But in the context of understanding the secondary characters in the dramatis personae, it is necessary to understand how Rupa Goswami saw them ontologically. Or indeed any of the characters in any of the stories, whether demons like Hiranyakashipu or devotees like Prahlada.

Is Chandravali even meant to be seen as a real person? Taking any of these stories as anything besides stories, or the characters as anything but archetypes, is a problem. Even if they were to be taken as historically true, they have been converted into archetypes by the story itself.

Chandravali, Nanda and Yashoda, all the personalities in Braj-Vrindavan are archetypes. Those archetypes exists in the mind of the conditioned soul in a variety of forms, but the Vaishnava sādhaka is engaged in a process of reconfiguring his own psychology to conform to the Vrindavan ideal.

As that reconfiguration takes place, the chief archetypes (the animus and anima) are envisioned as Radha and Krishna. The union of the Divine Couple (coniunctio oppositorum) stands at the center of the archetypal constellation, ruling over it as they should. Chandravali and the other gopis should be seen as shadows of Radha. Though they are contained within the overarching anima complex, they represent the non-dominant traits. In the nitya-vihāra, of course, the shadow is not at all present and all the 360 types have been assimilated into Radha.

What this means in the economy of the individual psyche is that the compliance of the feminine (anima) to the masculine (animus) is being seen as a losing proposition. Only when the feminine characteristic of mahā-bhāva predominates can the union of opposites be effectuated, both in the individual male or female psyches. This is the meaning.

Photos of Chandravali's temple and deities at her birthplace in Rithora, between Nanda Gaon and Barsana, taken by R.D. Bansiya at Panoramio

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The taste of Radha Krishna katha

I think that once a devotee gets a taste of Radha-Krishna katha, there is no going back. They will never get a taste for "prema" or "bhakti" or "Truth" or "transcendence" without Radha Krishna. All the words will be just so much fluff in the air. I am just trying to understand why and how to transmit that taste.

tad eva ramyaṁ ruciraṁ navaṁ navaṁ
tad eva śaśvan manaso mahotsavam
tad eva śokārṇava-śoṣaṇaṁ nṛṇāṁ
yad uttamaśloka-guṇānuvarṇanam
Those words describing the glories of the all-famous Personality of Godhead are attractive, relishable and ever fresh. Indeed, such words are a perpetual festival for the mind, and they dry up the ocean of misery. (SB 12.12.50)
I think that even if you just chant this verse from the Bhagavatam, feel its rhythm, you will get a glimpse. But how many lifetimes of preparation will it take someone to come to the point of just letting those sounds roll on the tongue and dance in the heart?

Who can give you those lifetimes of preparation?

And most of what we do produce in the vernacular will, to a great extent, I believe, be calqued on the originals. But just as ISKCON is to a great extent a hybrid: It is mostly a Western idealized sense of Indian culture. And in India, that is combined with another layer: the Indian's idealized sense of Western culture. So there are all these prisms through which the original tradition is being looked at.

But these things are normal because of the nature of changing time and place. It is just curious to observe when you have a little perspective of multiple viewpoints, i.e., Vaishnavism in different times and places, historically, culturally, according to different traditions.

God is always essentially an idea, an ideal. He exists in the mind. At least, our conception of God exists in the mind. It is therefore essentially a psychological complex that affects our evolution as human beings. As our concept of God clarifies, so do we evolve and mature as human beings.

But I am a great believer in having faith in and sticking to your personal revelations, which usually come through some parampara, some guru lineage or another, whether you want to call it that or not. Once that revelation has come, it is your life's duty to follow through on it. That revelation is, like Chaitanya Charitamrita says, a seed that you have to grow into a fully blossoming and fruit-giving tree.

You try different kinds of fertilizer. You play different kinds of music for the plant's growth. Sunlight. Heat. Whatever you can to make the bhakti plant flourish. This Radha-Krishna prema tree has such delicious fruits. People will say, "What is this exotic fruit I never saw before? Why not some good Christian apples? Or yoga peaches?" And we will say, "Just try some of these Radha-Krishna mangoes. They are very good."

So, for me, anyway, these languages... that unique, special sound of Sanskrit, Bangla, Brij... they dance in a way that prods my heart. They are a powerful irrigation technique for that seed. After all, that seed came in the form of foreign sounding sounds in the first place, so why not?

Let us put it another way: I am not telling anyone to become Indian, but I do have faith in the Indianness of this tradition. That is not saying that I have faith in modern India, or in Indians as such. Like everywhere, there is good and bad. But I have faith in what has been revealed to me, which comes to me through the medium of India, its language, its culture, its holy places, its gurus.

It is a matter of taste. And like Joseph Campbell said, you have to follow your bliss. And for me, that bliss is in the sound of Banke Bihari's name.

Mahaprabhu speaking of Sri Rupa said:

madhura prasanna iṅhāra kābya sālaṅkāra |
aiche kabitva binu nahe rasera pracāra ||
“His poetry is very sweet, clear and ornate. Without such literary skill, one cannot bring the rasa forth.”
*****
Prabodhananda Saraswati writes:

dagdho bhīma-bhavāṭavī-bhramaṇato duḥkhaugha-dāvānalair
ādāya priya-mugdha-vṛtti-kariṇīḥ sad-vartmago jīvitaḥ |
sāndrānanda-rasātiśītalatare tāpa-trayonmūlane
rādhā-keli-sudhāmbudhau mama mano mattaḥ karī majjatu ||
After wandering through this dense forest of material existence, scorched in forest fires fueled by repeated miseries, the intoxicated elephant of my mind, taking with him his sweet and lovingly behaved (vṛtti) queen, found the path of truth and survived. Now, may it bathe in the ocean of nectar that is Radha's dalliances, the cooling waters of which are deep and joyful, and which uproot all the three miseries. (Saṅgīta-mādhava 15.12)
Prabodhananda was a very learned scholar. It is almost certain therefore that he used the word vṛtti in full consciousness of yoga terminology. The mind elephant and the vṛtti she-elephant, would in this way appear to represent purusha and prakriti.

Prabodhananda is comparing his own mind to an elephant, and the mind's vṛttis to a she-elephant. In yoga, this is purusha and prakṛti, except that prakṛti is always seen as a source of bondage and the vṛttis are to be stopped (yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhah).

But for Prabodhananda it means something different. The pure consciousness follows the vṛttis of the mind in sadhana bhakti to bathe in the ocean of rasa, just as the male and female elephants cavort sensuously in the water pool together. Here the citta-vṛttis are seen in a positive light.
That verse by Prabodhananda reminded me of this one by Raghunath Das:

ābhīra-pallī-pati-putra-kāntā-
dāsyābhilāsātibalāśva-vāraḥ |
śrī-rūpa-cintāmaṇi-sapti-saṁstho
mat-svānta-durdānta-hayecchur āstām ||
I pray that my heart, the powerful cavalier of desire to serve the gopa-prince's beloved, in its desire to find a suitable powerful steed may become yoked to the thought-jewel horse of Rupa Goswami. (Abhīṣṭa-sūcanam, 1)
In Raghunath's verse, he prays that the desire for prema, which is the purest element of the soul, should be yoked to the horse of Rupa Goswami's mind. Rupa Goswami is of course the guru. The citta-vṛttis of the sadhaka follow those of the guru. In both cases, the element of engaging the mind in following is preeminent.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Literalism and the Shadow: Religion and the potential for evil

Ultimately all Krishna devotees will have to give up the literal interpretation of myth and turn to a symbolic understanding, or their faith will collapse on its own contradictions.

The reason a Gaudiya Vaishnava cannot be a literalist is because a literalist is always an unconscious dualist. As with all seekers of Truth, we hold that "when one's ultimate concerns are relative truths, that is called idolatry." (Paul Tillich) In other words, it is misplaced and misguided faith.

The literalist may appear to be unitarian who has resolved the problem of duality, but in fact he has a big unacknowledged Jungian "Shadow". Therefore his views are unsynthesized. This is why I say his position will ultimately collapse on its own contradictions.

We are acintya-bhedābheda-vādis. Acintya means paradox or mystery. Acintya-bhedābheda is not about artificially throwing up one's hands and saying, "It is all one anyway!" it is about the experiential and conscious synthesis of A and ~A. Experience gives intuitive knowledge, consciousness comes after rational processing.

The word acintya simply means that when we are in the realm of Divine Truth, specifically in the area of Divine Personhood and non-Personhood, the two are simultaneously equal due to the inconceivable nature of that Divine Truth.

Acintya is fundamentally a "faith" position. It is about the intuitive understanding that God is the seat where all contradictions are reconciled. Even though that realm, being archetypal, is ultimately inaccessible except through symbol.

Greta Christina, an atheist blogger, recently wrote an article in what seems to be an ongoing debate, "Faulty arguments religious people use against atheists debunked". She takes the basic position of objecting to any belief in the supernatural, whether it is God, the soul, spirits, ghosts, karma, or anything else, which is her definition of religion.

I do not at this time want to enter into a debate with her arguments, which on the whole are strong. My basic position is that religion is attributable to human functioning, both in the individual and collective psyches, but that it, like so many other percepts, must be purified by rationality and behavioral and moral reform (i.e. sādhana). So I do not find it surprising that most religion in the world is literalist and fundamentalist, arising from the lower guṇas of tamas and rajas.

This insight that religion has manifestations in the material qualities, which go from the very worst of human mentalities to the very best, can be found in the Gītā and Bhāgavata. Some form of faith follows humanity from its least evolved to its most elevated condition, for it is part and parcel of its very nature. What this means for rationalist absolutists needs to be considered.

Some religions are definitely worse than others in their capacity to produce evil consequences and ineffective social outcomes (take Afghani Islam as an example). If defending religion means defending these manifestations of the chthonic and basest inclinations of human civilization, then one is certainly in a difficult position vis-à-vis those who believe it to be a vestige of the primitive. But something similar might be said of almost any phenomenon – food, sex, interhuman relations and dealings, etc.

Human beings are meant to evolve, to seek betterment in all their endeavors including the religious. It is possible to understand religious phenomena without recourse to deities or supernatural beings, so that even atheism falls within its scope. As is so often the case, it is a question of definitions. But that is not for this article.

And if human life is about evolving to the highest states of being and experience attainable, then we must discard the baser forms of religion even as they proclaim their absolute verity. The Bhāgavatam itself is unequivocal, not only in calling out false religion, but in pointing out the many disguises that false religion takes.

jugupsitaṁ dharma-kṛte 'nuśāsataḥ
svabhāva-raktasya mahān vyatikramaḥ |
yad-vākyato dharma itītaraḥ sthito
na manyate tasya nivāraṇaṁ janaḥ ||

Those who are completely immersed in the material nature are done a great disservice when they are told to engage in reprehensible activities in the name of religion, for such people will never respect any restrictions that are placed on these acts once they have been approved as valid religious duties. [BhP 1.5.16]
Though I would not like to think that Mahaprabhu’s devotees could similarly be rājasika or tāmasika, the possibility is certainly there. The elimination of all the guṇas is the process of purification that every sādhaka undertakes. And the lower guṇas are in fact enhanced by superficial literalism, because such superficial understanding is not compatible with Truth.

If one examines the Gītā's definition of knowledge in the mode of ignorance (18.20) you can see a bit of what is meant.

Though Greta Christina makes her base definition of religion "belief in any supernatural beings" (which for her includes the soul) and argues that therefore all religion is equally wrong, she does seem to allow for degrees of bad. But like most atheists, she scents victory when liberal defenders of religion like Karen Armstrong (whom she calls “the queen of vague theology”) redefine God in a way that most religions would view as a kind of atheism. Richard Dawkins similarly calls pantheism a kind of “sexed up atheism.”

On the other side of the coin, when Hare Krishna devotees or any true believer hears, "We need to go beyond the literal concept and start thinking symbolically," they immediately respond in shocked abhorrence. Most devotees are afraid to abandon the literalist viewpoint, wondering what on earth will be left of their religion if they do? “How will I be true to my spiritual master, who demanded not only that I accept every word from his mouth as gospel truth, but the shastra also?”

The Bhāgavata says, bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syāt, “Fear comes of absorption in dualistic thinking.”

Karen Armstrong is trying to synthesize her religious experience with her abhorrence of the irrationality in the Catholic belief system as well as in other religionsm, what to speak of its obscurantist attitude to women and sexuality -- the two seem to go hand in hand.

I feel the same way. I think it is incumbent on devotees to use their rationality. But it is a perverted and dishonest rationality when the mandate is to "prove scientifically" the literal truth of ancient religious texts. This is the game fundamentalist Christians or a Michael Cremo are playing when they use science selectively against itself to disprove evolution. What do they have to put in its place? Literally interpreted myths, nothing more. Do they have the remotest capacity of proving those things scientifically?

The beginning of our autocritique has to start with humbly accepting that a lot of the shastra is fanciful stories that are meant either to moralize or just entertain.

Then the next step is to make a rational analysis of what is meaningful and an honest assessment of what is effective in the spiritual practices one is engaged in and why.

A big problem for most Vaishnavas, whether in ISKCON, the Gaudiya Math or orthodox sampradayas, is that most of them have a vested interest in controlling the message and keeping a dogmatic consistency in order to maintain their institutional strength or their individual psychological integrity.

What this results in is an imbalance, a repression of such honest examination of the belief system, which then results in the growth of the Shadow: "That which cannot be named." As this repressed aspect of the psyche is pushed further into the unconscious, it results in ugly behaviors that subvert the institution in more powerful ways, undermining its stated goals of stability, truth and happiness.

An organization with a shared or communal Shadow tends to fascistic type behaviors -- rigorous discipline and demands for obedience on the one hand, and rejection, hatred and punishment of the nonconformist. The strongest evidence of the Shadow is projection onto perceived "others" -- atheists, materialists, Mayavadis, karmis, Sahajiyas -- the list grows ever longer. And thus the potential for evil grows.

It is a mechanism that has its own dynamic. It becomes something quite insidious, when insiders no longer honestly believe their dogmas, but use them for what can usually be reduced to their own personal benefit, power, prestige and material comfort, all of which are bestowed by the institution.

By traditionalist standards, I will no doubt be closer to an atheist than a "true bhakta" (as one devotee intimated), but I in fact think that I am just a tad closer to the Truth than I was when I was an unquestioning follower. For me, the so-called "true bhakta" is one who is just starting on the path and has not really even begun to start inquiring into what is intended by jñānam advayam.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Love and the symbols of love

Radha and Krishna are simultaneously Love and the symbol of love.

Some people seem to think that I am saying that Radha and Krishna are some kind of "role model" for human lovers. That is not what I think. The question is complex and one has to have a real close understanding of the psychology of myth, symbol and archetype and their relation to spiritual experience.

We start from the premise, based on our faith, experience, and reason, of the reality of God. God is represented psychologically in many ways as an archetypal reality. People think that you can reduce psychological realities, like myths and stories, to the realm of falsehood or fiction, but in fact they are  functioning realities and remain so even when repressed. For Jung, archetypes are equivalent to the instincts.

The archetype of God, according to Jung, is simply the "Self", a realization that no doubt came to him from Indian thought. But Jung also recognized the Syzygy, or Divine Couple, as an archetype of psychological integration, the union of opposites. These two archetypal constellations are of great interest to us as devotees of Radha and Krishna.

Jung recognized the numinosity of archetypes. In other words, unconscious archetypes can either be projected externally or experienced internally, through which they attain a special aura that imbues them with a meaning that is outside the common everyday experience. These experiences are generally associated with strong emotions. Indeed numinosity and intense emotional experience go hand in hand.

In the Indian tradition, the rasas are such emotional experiences and are signs of archetypal experiences.

Jung claimed to be agnostic about the ontological reality of any transcendent being, i.e. God, and to only be interested in the psychological significance of these archetypal revelations. I have to say that he was right to take this position, because people are in the gunas, and archetypal experiences in sattva, rajas and tamas are going to be quite different. They are not in and of themselves "good." A symbol of "Self" that is produced from the tamasic collective unconscious leads to evil consequences of Hitlerian proportions.

Archetypes are thus general concepts or categories to which attach the infinite varieties of possibility and are repeated in infinite variety, but have no specific content. Nevertheless, they always have meaning, like the archetype of a tree has meaning, even though the infinite varieties of tree are all distinct from it, or only approach it as an ideal.

In our concept, Love itself is a transcendent archetype that is founded in the reality of experience, but, more importantly, is instinctual. Since the desire for love is the most profound of our desires, it emanates from the soul and not from the body.

Sexual desire is only the physical manifestation of that desire, and as one descends the gunas of nature, what is innately the desire for love becomes perverted into a combination of sexuality and hate or violence. Nevertheless, the connection of sexual desire to love is something that Freud recognized and we accept, in the manner of the yogis and Tantrics, that the purification and proper channeling or sublimation of sexual desire is an essential element in the search for Love.

The archetypal Reality of Love is Radha-Krishna.

Love itself is an existing reality, which may otherwise be called God. The desire for love also exists in the psyche as an archetypal complex. At the same time, because we need to incorporate that Reality into our capacity for communication, we use Radha-Krishna as shorthand, so that we can love Love, so to speak.

The mystery of love is that there is no difference between the Reality and the symbol, just like there is no difference between Krishna and Krishna's name. It is only degrees of revelation.

This comes from a confusion of understanding about the difference between sign and symbol. A sign is a pointer to something else, but does not participate in its nature. The street sign that indicates a place name is not the place itself. Once the reality indicated by a sign is attained, then, it can be discarded, having done its job.

In the case of symbols, this is not the case. A symbol participates in that which it symbolizes. For example, the spinning wheel came to symbolize Gandhi’s movement for Indian self-sufficiency; it took on a wider meaning without losing its own participatory role in that wider meaning.

A religious symbol in itself carries a universal meaning. This is why we say that symbols are fountains of unlimited meaning. Radha and Krishna do more than simply participate in love; they are not just literary lovers like Romeo and Juliet or historical lovers who have ascended to legend like Pierre and Héloise. They fully represent love as the necessary divine poles of love, since love of necessity is manifested between two persons.

Thus Jiva Goswami says:

imau gaurī-śyāmau manasi viparītau bahir api
sphurat-tat-tad-vastrāv iti budha-janair niścitam idam |
sa ko’py accha-premā vilasad-ubhaya-sphūrtikatayā
dadhan-mūrtībhāvaṁ pṛthag-apṛthag apy āvirudabhūt ||
Wise persons have determined that
though these two are of a black and golden hue,
in their minds they are of the opposite colors,
as externally, so too are their clothes.
This is some pure, unblemished love become incarnate,
taking on this form with a dual manifestation
which is both divided and a unity.
The infinite, transcendent God's personal revelation to the finite individual soul will always be mediated by symbolic representations, which are non different from him. They are like compact, condensed forms of infinite meaning.

Therefore I say, Radha and Krishna are simultaneously Love and the symbol of love. Inasmuch as love is real, Radha and Krisha are real.

For those to whom Love has been revealed through the medium of Radha and Krishna, there is NO difference. But by the same token, if you only have the symbol, but don't have the Love, you really have neither.

Where myth and symbol are in apparent conflict, symbol always overrides myth. 

Historically, myths have always been adjusted to fit the symbol as its meanings are revealed and understood in greater profundity.

This is as true in Vaishnavism as it is in all world religions.

Failure to recognize this principal means religious fundamentalism and spiritual atrophy. This is as true in Vaishnavism as it is in all world religions. If it were not so, there would be no meaning to a verse like the following:

anarpita-carīṁ cirāt karuṇayāvatīrṇaḥ kalau
samarpayitum unnatojjvala-rasāṁ sva-bhakti-śriyam
hariḥ puraṭa-sundara-dyuti-kadamba-sandīpitaḥ
sadā hṛdaya-kandare sphuratu vaḥ śacī-nandanaḥ
The Lord has never at any time given the treasure of devotional love, this most elevated, effulgent taste of sacred rapture. Nevertheless, out of His mercy, He has incarnated in this age of quarrel in a golden form to distribute that treasure freely to the world. May Lord Chaitanya, the son of Sachi, dwell in the cave of your heart like a lion forever. (ViM 1.2) (CC 1.1.4)
Refusal to accept that symbols and myths change meaning and form, that the evolutionary principle also applies in the revelation of archetypal truths, is a major cause of religious fundamentalism and spiritual stagnation. 

Myths and symbols can both be discarded if they lose meaning or are perceived to have no meaning. But archetypes cannot be discarded. Archetypes simply dress up in different symbolic and mythic forms.

Archetype is the underlying meaning of the symbol; they are related as content to form. Archetype is always the subtext of any story, whether presented as fact or fiction, and it is the subtext for all perception and interpretation of reality.

Archetypes are colored by the gunas of prakriti, which gives rise to the multiplicity of symbolic and mythic forms. Those symbols and myths that most closely communicate the numinosity of the archetype are those that take on a sacred character.

Even so, the gunas are always a factor in coloring perception. In sattva-guna, a clearer perception of the true meaning of the archetype becomes apparent, which usually results in transformations of religious forms through new symbols and myths.

Rajas and tamas can also result in new, destructive forms of myth and symbol. Even so, the implicit position of the religious-minded is that archetypes in themselves are beneficial, their sattvika perception resulting in the attainment of their fullest beneficial effects.

pārthivād dāruṇo dhūmas
tasmād agnis trayīmayaḥ |
tamasas tu rajas tasmāt
sattvaṁ yad brahma-darśanam ||
Just as smoke is better than wood which is a product of earth, and fire is superior to smoke because one can perform Vedic sacrifice with it, similarly rajas is superior to tamas. Sattva, which leads to the realization of the Absolute, is superior to rajas. (BhP 1.2.24)
The pure archetype itself is always the goal, whether perceived through rajas, tamas or sattva, or through bhakti. Ultimately, it is only when it is recognized as the end rather than as a means that the archetype is fully revealed in all its transcendent glory. Even though it is then still mediated through symbols, this is the closest we can really come to full unmediated direct perception of God, the symbol's full numinosity and experience its transformative power.