Krishna Leela: Krishna As Lover: Part – II

Krishna As Lover

  • There was a shudder in her whispering voice.
  • She was shy to frame her words.
  • What has happened tonight to lovely Radha?
  • Now she consents, now she is afraid.
  • When asked for love, she closes up her eyes,
  • Eager to reach the ocean of desire.
  • He begs her for a kiss.
  • She turns her mouth away
  • And then, like a night lily,
  • the moon seized her.
  • She felt his touch startling her girdle.
  • She knew her love treasure was being robbed.
  • With her dress she covered up her breasts.
  • The treasure was left uncovered.
  • Vidyapati wonders at the neglected bed.
  • Lovers are busy in each other’s arms.

Desire and inhibition, passion and fear, seduction and shame, ecstasy and the occasional recurrence of shame—the entire dialectic of a liaison is explored. But the many moods of union are not always delineated in predictable rainbow colours. The causeless hysteria and ingenuity of lovers, their random elations and depressions, their unfathomed joy and sorrow are also the subject of these poets’ attention. The following poem by Chandidasa expresses some of these feelings.

  • I must go.
  • In spite of my kisses,
  • My passionate embraces,
  • He keeps repeating
  • That he must go.
  • He goes half a step
  • And then he turns back
  • With anguished eyes,
  • Gazing at my face.
  • Wringing my hands
  • He promises returning
  • He flatters me so much
  • To meet me again!
  • Deep is his love,
  • My beloved one,
  • Of such terrible passion.
  • Candidasa says: then Rest in his heart.

Krishna As Lover

The poets of this period chafed at the constraints of the hitherto accepted contours of the Krishna-Radha love games. As a genre their poetry came to be known as riti-kala or sringara-kala, wherein love, in all its aspects, was the unabashed theme. Their effor. was to take the Krishna and Radha humanized by Bilvamangala and Jayadeva and depict them in as many situations as it was possible for human lovers to find themselves. It was a case of the divine imitating the human, and the human, being enriched by the divine. Like any bold man in love, their Krishna was also capable of the most daring ruses. Their Radha could dress herself up as a constable to put Krishna in her place, or steal glances at him unnoticed through a peephole in her tresses as she combed them after a bath. Some of these bards literally revelled in the novelty of a new situation. A poem by Bihari {Bihari, The Satasai, translated by K.P. Bahadur) goes:

  • Exchanging clothes
  • Radha and Krishna
  • came to the rendezvous
  • for love making.
  • She was on top
  • but dressed as a man,
  • so they got the thrill
  • of novelty even
  • while seeming to
  • make love in the normal way!

Even so, established themes—Krishna’s bewitching flute and the primeval rhythm of the rasa—were not entirely forgotten, but the familiar invocation was often laced with startlingly new imagery.

Chandidasa writes:

  • How can I describe his relentless flute,
  • which pulls virtuous women from their homes
  • and drags them by their hair to Shyam
  • as thirst and hunger pull the doe to the snare?
  • Chaste ladies forget their lords,
  • wise men forget their wisdom,
  • and clinging vines shake loose from their trees,
  • hearing that music.
  • Then how shall a simple dairy maid withstand its call?
  • Candidasa says, Kala the puppet master leads the dance.

In the popular psyche, Krishna and Radha became the universal symbol for the lover and the beloved. Krishna was the ideal nayak (hero), and Radha the ideal nayika (heroine). The use of the word ideal should not
be interpreted to mean a monotone image. On the contrary, they were the ideal precisely because their sringara-leela could accommodate a thousand variations. All lovers could not but reflect in their own personality some part (ansh) of the divine love between the two; conversely, the two incorporated in themselves the personality of all lovers. The canvas of their love was seamless, a painting which amplified and mutated itself in a myriad reflections. For this reason, but also as

a facade for the expression of human prurience, an invocation of their name became a password to sanction the description of all contact between the sexes.

The meteoric growth in the stature of Radha in Krishna lore was in large measure due to the fact that Krishna was a god specially made for women. Radha acquired pivotal importance because through her feeling and personality she articulated the silent yearnings and fantasies of Indian women as a whole. Around the tenth century AD, women in India lived in considerably repressed conditions. Wifely chastity was an overpowering ideal in an unrepentantly polygamous society. Men could have more than one wife and several mistresses; women could at best strive to retain the attention of their husband. For men dalliance outside marriage had social tolerance if not acceptance; a woman was bounded by the four walls of her husband’s home and even the thought of a romantic foray beyond them was unthinkable. To make matters worse, husbands were often away for long periods. An entire genre of very stirring verse—Baramaasa—came up dealing with a wife’s anguish at the many seasons of the year drifting barrenly by in the absence of her husband. Widowhood was a curse, remarriage was taboo, and the plight of -child-widows pitiable. Sexual frustration was thus rampant under the respectable edifice of ‘stable’ homes and chaste wives.

Krishna As Lover

In Radha, Indian women found a symbol for the vicarious release of their repressed personalities. Radha’s intense yearning for Krishna echoed their own subconscious frustrations. Her uninhibited pursuit of physical fulfillment with him mirrored their own libidinal stirrings. The secretive, illicit and adulterous nature of her affair with Krishna provided a particularly apt framework for them to identify with. Radha, the furtive rebel, determined to clandestinely break the stranglehold of social norms and customs, became an image they could readily internalize.

If Radha was the inspiration, Krishna was the object of the Indian woman’s fantasy. Unlike other gods in the Hindu pantheon, Krishna’s personality had a softness to it that made it conspicuously responsive to the longings and desires of women. As a child, his impish adorability tugged at the maternal instincts of the women of Braj. As an adolescent, his aggressive behaviour with
its transparent sexual overtones was secretly understood by them. As a lover, he was prepared to overcome his own initial scruples to respond with equal passion to their overtures. When he danced the rasa he took care to perpetuate the illusion that he was available exclusively for each one of them. In lovemaking, he was both untiring and accomplished. Above all, he was human, treating women nor just as sex objects, but suffering like them in separation and longing. In his company, they could relax the code of conduct imposed by an overwhelmingly male-dominated society. They would assume a stance of familiarity, calling him a thief, a liar, cheat and so on—something they could never do with their husbands.

Krishna allowed women to play out the fantasy of being in control, of being able to bend the will of men to their commands. In the Gitagovinda, Radha compelled Krishna to repent and, when they made love, Radha took the man’s position of being on top. After they had made love, she commanded him to plait her hair and attend to her toiletries. Mana or the pride between lovers became, with Krishna, a two-way street. If he on occasion had to be cajoled out of a sulk, he too was prepared to make the effort to persuade his beloved to relent. The Rasikapriya, Keshav Das’s celebrated treatise on erotica, describes how Krishna would arrange to send to an angry Radha flowers longing to become fragrant by a touch of her breasts, or an ivory necklace, yearning to fulfill its destiny by going on a pilgrimage to her bosom, the seat of holiness.

Even in its post-Vrindavan phase, the Krishna myth retained its special porousness to the sensitivities of the opposite sex. Soon after his arrival in Mathura, Krishna found time, in spite of his preoccupations with the looming battle with Karnsa, to have a liaison with Kubja, a deformed and hunch-backed woman, whom he miraculously restored to her original beauty. According to the Bhagavata Purana, Krishna knew of Kubja’s secret longing for him. He therefore visited her house. ‘She offered seats covered with .costly silks to [him]—they sat for a while and Krishna looked at her who was feeling shy even to look at him. He knew how much she wanted him and according to his promise, he took her by the hand and led her to the inner chambers, and pleased her.

Krishna As Lover

Rukmini, the lovely daughter of the king of Kundalpur, was secretly in love with Krishna, having heard of his exploits from some wandering mendicants. But she was being forcibly married off by her wicked brother Rukma to Sisupala, prince of another kingdom. Krishna, on hearing of this, boldly abducted Rukmini and made her his queen, defeating Rukma and Sisupala in battle. In the course of several colourful adventures,
he acquired more wives, the more notable among them being Jambhavati, Satyabhama and Kalindi. The Bhagavata Purana erred a trifle towards the excessive when it recounted that Krishna, defeating the demon king Naraka, rescued 16,000 virgins enslaved by him and married them all. The Bhagavata maintained however that he bestowed equal love on all his queens, ever responsive to their every wish. When Satyabhama wished to have the Kalpavriksha, the heavenly wishing tree owned by Indra himself, Krishna promptly set out to obtain it; when Indra refused to part with it, he took it away forcibly. Such was his legendary prowess in keeping all his wives satisfied and pleased that the sage Narada, so the Bhagavata says, once went to see for himself how Krishna managed it all. He was stunned to see that Krishna was individually and simultaneously available to all his wives.

The cumulative myth sustained one basic point: for women, Krishna was a personal god, always accessible and unfailingly responsive. This was in stark contrast with the real world where their husbands were shared disproportionately by the larger joint family, were hierarchically remote and, more often than not, found an outlet for romance outside the home. Krishna was the avenue to bridge this great hiatus between reality and fantasy in the Indian woman’s life. He seemed to tell them that he understood their deep-seated desires; and to reassure them that though their behaviour might seem an aberration by conventional standards, these standards did not apply to him. He gave them the ‘permission for joy*. He was theirs to be moulded for whatever fantasy they wanted. He urged them—as the incident of stealing the clothes of the gopis demonstrated—to shed their inhibitions in his presence. He stood for the promise of passion and romance in their otherwise staid social world; equally importantly, and this is where complex psychological elements enter, he was prepared to be possessed and controlled by them in a manner profoundly fulfilling, both as lover and son.

Krishna As Lover

The devotional poems of the two foremost female Krishna bhaktas, Aantaal and Mirabai, are congruent at this point to the discussion. Aantaal, regarded as one of the twelve Aalvaar Vaishnava saint-poets, lived in the ninth century in Tamil Nadu. Mirabai was born in 1498. It is said that as a child she was given an image of Krishna and grew so fond of if that her mother jokingly remarked that Krishna would one day be her bridegroom.

The significant common factor in the outlook of both Aantaal and Mira was that they looked upon Krishna as their husband. Both believed that in their previous lives they were gopis in Vrindavan. Mira considered herself to be the incarnation of the gopi Lalita, mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana. They both looked upon Krishna as their lover. They both sought physical union with him. They both wrote with an intensity and passion that was spiritual and erotic simultaneously.

Aantaal has left behind two basic works. In the Tirupaavai, a poem of thirty stanzas, she evokes Krishna by linking him with the rainfall that produces fertility. The poem, obviously basing itself on an ancient fertility ritual, describes how young girls in the village go from house to house to wake people to join in the rites. The girls go also to the house of Nanda and Yasoda, where Krishna is still asleep with his chest resting on wife Pinnai’s breasts. When Krishna comes out to meet them, they tell him frankly that all that they want is that he accept them as his slave girls.

The desire to be ‘possessed’, to be ‘taken over’, physically and otherwise, is a recurring theme in Aantaal’s verse. Her second and longer work, Nachiyar Tirumoli, is much more explicitly sensuous. Her burning desire for physical contact with Krishna is the most dominant theme here. In a dream she sees herself being married to Vishnu, but Krishna remains elusive. Desperate, she seeks Kaama’s help in fulfilling her desires. From the days of her youth her growing breasts have been dedicated, she exclaims, only to Krishna. She entreats Kaama: ‘Can’t you grant me this greatest honour on earth: that with his sacred hands he touches my soft large breasts and my splendid abdomen.’ The imagery of ‘penetration’, and often even of a desire to be violated, with its concomitant feelings of both pain and joy, is an identifiable undercurrent of her writing:

  • He entered inside me and crushed me to pieces;
  • he let my life escape and enjoys seeing me dance [in agony].
  • My bones are melting, my eyes find no sleep for many days.
  • I am whirling, and drown in the sea of suffering without the boat,
  • the Lord of Venkata.

I have lost the beauty of my breasts and my red lips, since Hrishikesha violated me. In the sole desire to unite with him my breasts grew large and jumped in joy. Now they make my life melt away and cause such agony.

Mira’s songs (collectively known as her Padavali) are perhaps less voluptuous, but no less intense. The profile a highly intimate and personal world in which nothing seems to exist except Krishna, the object of her desire.


Krishna As Lover

The viraha of the gopis on Krishna’s departure from Vrindavan for Mathura falls in a qualitatively separate category. This was not the stereotyped, temporary separation of lovers so popular with Sanskrit dramatists and rhetoricians. It was not even the viraha of the rasa leela, described in the Bhagavata, where separation was but a brief interlude in the mainstream towards a climactic union. In this viraha, the sequence of events unfolding in conventional love was reversed: union did not follow viraha, but viraha followed union. And this viraha was the final viraha, for Krishna never came back to Vrindavan again.

At first glance, this twist to the love of Krishna and Radha, and Krishna and the gopis, is difficult to explain. Krishna had to leave Vrindavan for Mathura to fulfil his mission of deposing and killing his wicked uncle, Karnsa. Having done that he could have plausibly returned to Vrindavan. Even if affairs of state prevented him from living anymore in Vrindavan, he could have continued to visit Vrindavan. After all, Mathura was but a few miles away. In autumn, when the jasmine and wild water lilies blossomed, and the stars shone resplendently in the clear night sky, he could have come again to enact the rasa. He was not unaware of the grief and suffering of the gopis and, above all, of Radha, the subject of his most passionate attachment. There was also the attraction of Nanda and Yasoda, and all his childhood friends. By all accounts, his farewell to Vrindavan was more than poignant. The Bhagavata describes the scene of that early morning when Krishna and Balarama, along with Akrura, Kamsa’s messenger sent to summon them, drove away in their chariot for Mathura.

Early m the morning one of the gopis got up to sprinkle water at her doorstep and to paint pictures with flour as was the custom. She saw a strange chariot at the door of Nanda’s house. Dropping her vessel full of water and the dish containing rice flour she rushed to the other houses and spread the news … One bolder than the others went nearer and from somewhere near the house saw what was going on. She rushed out in panic and said: ‘Stop that chariot! Take it away! Hide it! Do something with it!’ . . . The gopis saw Krishna and he rushed to them. He was embraced by each and every one of them and they could not talk, any of them. They did not ask where he was going. They knew that he was going: it did not matter where . . . They turned to Akrura and spoke harsh words to him: ‘How dare you take away our darling Krishna with you? . . . You are Yama) the god of death and you have come to take away our lives.

Krishna As Lover

We will die if Krishna leaves us.’ Krishna pacified them and told them that he had to go [but] . . . none of these words could comfort the lamenting women. . . Krishna left them and went to his playmates. They were numb with the thought that their Krishna, their playmate, their companion from childhood was going to the city . . . Krishna took leave of them and his eyes were sad since he knew he would never come back to Vrindavan: never again to the slopes of Goverdhan: never again to the banks of the Yamuna. Never more would he make sweet music on the sands when the moon shed its soft beams: never again would he hold the stick of bamboo in his hand and drive the cows to the forests. He had bade farewell to his cows. But once again he went into the sheds where his beloved cows were standing and they were all weeping. He wiped their tears and with his forearm wiped his own tears and went to the presence of his mother.

He fell at her feet and once again took leave of her. She clung to him and he had to disentangle himself from her restraining hands . . . After a few stunned moments the gopis realized that their Krishna
had begun his journey to the city . . . They tried in vain to stop the chariot. Akrura laid his whip across the horses* flanks and at once they began to move. The gopis and the young boys set up such a wail that the very skies resounded with their piteous cry . . . They stood staring in the direction where the chariot was fast disappearing. They wiped their eyes and stared intently until the dust rising from the progress of the chariot had settled down and they saw nothing there far away in the distance. Krishna had gone away from them.

Krishna had himself initiated and encouraged the love of the gopis for him. His affair with Radha was one in which he was completely and equally involved. Why then was his departure from Vrindavan so final and irrevocable? Certainly such a course of action would not be attributed to whimsy or coincidence. It could appear that his sojourn in Vrindavan, and his conscious and definitive departure from it, was meant to convey the one integrated message: Kaama has validity, but not exclusive validity; sex is a window to the divine, but not the only window; the physical is joyous, but so can the non-physical be.

This Hindu view of life was always informed by two parallel themes: one emphasized the legitimacy of
desire, the other stressed the joys of transcending such desire. Shiva gambolled in sexual play with Parvati for such an extended period that the gods themselves began to worry; but the same Shiva remained for years immersed in the most sublime meditation, totally oblivious to the senses. The dialectics of mainstream Hinduism were not either-or. It was not that one path was right, and the other wrong. Both were valid, for the essential premise was that there was more than one avenue to experience the bliss of the infinite. Mythology became a tool to correct the exclusivity of one approach. When Shiva, angry at being disturbed in his meditation, destroyed Kaamadeva, the God of Love, he was forced to recreate him.

Krishna As Lover

The empirical observation of life reinforced such an eclectic outlook. It was apparent that more than one strand combined to produce the final weave of existence, and more than one colour the complete picture of reality. In the unfolding life of an individual there was a plurality of phases, each with a dominant pursuit and emotion, valid for that particular phase, but not valid in the same manner for all of them. In the Hindu scheme of things, the ideal life had four stages (ashramas): brahmacharya, the period of discipline, dedicated to the acquisition of knowledge; grahastya, the period of the householder and worldly pursuits; vanaprastha, the period of preparing oneself to withdraw from the worldly senses; and sanyasa, the period of the hermit, withdrawn from the material world.

This was an attempt to construct the rhythm of life, taking into account its inevitable evolutionary mutations. The mosaic of life was multifaceted, its murals of many levels. Spring and autumn were beautiful, but each gave way to summer and winter, which had their own compensations. The day could be resplendent, but it was inevitably followed by night, and if the night was unhappy, it would as surely be followed by dawn. Orgasms, however ecstatic, could not be stretched forever. The sexual urge, however legitimate, could not be sustained in permanence. The body, however beautiful, could not remain untainted by the vicissitudes of age. And desire and passion, however intense, could not forever retain the same efficacy of expression and fulfillment.

Krishna left Vrindavan to demonstrate this verity. In doing so he demonstrated too the essential nature of his own being. His involvement in Vrindavan was but an enactment of his leela. He was a participant in the rasa and in the escapades on the banks of the Yamuna with Radha and the gopis, but this participation was inherently transcendent. He was involved but it did not involve him. He was a yogi, above the joys of attachment and the sorrows of separation. Vrindavan may have been possessed by him, but he could never be possessed by Vrindavan. His rasa leelas may have proceeded for nights
on end, but at another level, he was the eternal celibate, untainted by his actions, and above its consequences.

The plight of the gopis was different. Their attachment to Krishna was real. The joy they derived in the rasa was overwhelming. Their horizons were limited to Krishna and the groves of Vrindavan and the sandy banks of the Yamuna. It was essential, therefore, that they learnt to give to their desires a form and content which went beyond the physical. Krishna’s presence in Vrindavan had given sanctity to the joys of the flesh. His absence from it was meant to convey the limitations of the joys of the flesh, if pursued in isolation. Unconstrained joy was the essence of divinity. Sex was an aspect of that divine joy, but not the whole of it. The enlightened life was a balance of several goals, each rewarding only in a wholesome linkage with the other. Having revelled in the rasa, Krishna’s purpose was to teach, through viraha, the possibility of achieving the same intensity of union without physical stimulus. In doing so, he was not denying the role of the senses but merely asserting that in conjunction with the pleasure of the senses, there could be pursued, as the next stage, an equally valid and certainly more autonomous (that is, less dependent on external stimuli) path to fulfilment and joy.

Krishna As Lover

In the Bhagavata, Krishna explained the process to the gopis in the following way:

As for me, even when love is showered on me, sometimes I do not return it. The reason is because I want them to love me more: to become more devoted to me: to think of me and only me: to become my bhaktas. Take, for instance, a very poor man who has found wealth suddenly. If, after having it with him he loses it, his pain will be more than when he was poor, and his thoughts will be more intense about wealth: wealth which he had found only to lose it: Even so, I vanished from your sight because I wanted to know how dear I am to you and how indispensable. Your devotion to me has become more now when you went through the agony of losing me . . .

The essential logic was simple: First I give; then I take it away; then you miss what I gave; then the contemplation of what you had enables you to have without having.

The focused intensity of vision that viraha could produce was the subject of study of both erotic and rhetorical texts in India. The gopis deprived of Krishna’s physical presence went through an identified phase of emotional and physical trauma. There was loss of sleep (nidrachcheda), loss of weight (tanuta), an aversion to any object not relating to the beloved (visayebhyo
vyavritti), an unconcern for shame and modesty (lajja pranasa), delirium (unmaada) and fainting or a feeling of senselessness (murchcha). There were other symptoms: longing (abhilasha), anxiety (chinta), remembrance (smarana), telling the qualities of the beloved (gunakirtana), agitation and fear(udvega), delirium and senseless chatter (pratapa), seeing all things as consisting of the beloved (tan-maya), sickness and fever (vyadhi, jvara), stupor or stiffness (jadata), languor and displeasure (arati), and so forth’.

In the preliminary phase, the suffering of the separated one—the virahini—was acute, but in time, as a very consequence of this suffering, she achieved salvation. The intensity ofRadha’s longing was so great and the concentration of all her reflexes on the object of desire so sustained that she became one with the object itself. Radha, separated from Krishna, became Krishna. She achieved oneness with him (aikya), a state of blissful absorption in him (tanmayate). The pain of separation vanished; sorrow and grief, longing and yearning ceased; once rising from the ashes of their torment, Radha and the gopis overcame the false duality between desire and the object of desire. The obstacle of physical distance was demolished by the over-reach of the mental vision. And then there was the experience of a state of inner calm and poise, suffused by bliss, a sense of fulfilment, not entirely antithetical to the sense of joyous satiation

experienced by the same gopis in the fervour of the rasa. The gopis’ joy, and the virahini’s bliss was, in the ultimate analysis, akin; they symbolized two different but equally effective ways to reach the Lord; the ecstatic ardour of the gopis was contingent on Krishna’s physical presence, the beatific serenity of the virahini was the end result of his absence.

Krishna As Lover

The absence of Krishna did not however render him, in the eyes of the gopis, an abstraction. Their recollection of him may have acquired philosophical overtones, qualitatively different from the passion aroused in the rasa, but it was not a recollection deprived of the colour of his personality. The realization that he, as the personification of the infinite, was accessible even in his absence may have dawned, but this did not mean that his being had become attributeless, or that the appeal of his personality in the form that they knew it, had ceased to have relevance. The vision of the gopis sought to define the Lord in terms of their own experience. It was a vision that brought them into the larger arena of the basic debate in Hindu philosophy: What is the nature of the Absolute?

Surdas and Nandadas (1533-83), two luminaries of the Bhakti movement, adroitly used the viraha of the gopis to project the ideological superiority of the devotional mode of worship of a personal god. The Bhagavata had mentioned that Krishna, soon after
reaching Mathura, sent Uddhava, one of his most trusted friends, to Vrindavan to console his grieving parents and the suffering gopis. Uddhava sought to fulfill this task by urging Nanda, Yasoda and the gopis not to grieve over Krishna’s identifiable form as they had known it. The way to overcome this grief, Uddhava said, was by concentrating solely on the acquisition of knowledge of Krishna’s metaphysical reality.

‘Nanda, think on him as the Parabrahman/ Uddhava gently prodded, ‘and not as your son. If you do that you will realize that he has no feelings like an ordinary man has. He is beyond the feelings. No one is dear to him and he hates no one. He has no desires and he has no likes and dislikes. He is not attached to anyone or anything. To him no one is high and neither does he consider anyone to be low. Equality and inequality do not exist for him. He has no motlier: no father: no wife or children. He has no friends nor has he enemies. He is not confined by a body and so he has no birth or death.’

The gopis were sceptical. The memory of Krishna amidst them was, as yet, too overwhelming for them to accept the detached philosophical rationalization of

Uddhava. In this early phase of their viraha, their pain had also a sharp tinge of anger at the way in which Krishna had abandoned them. They had heard of Krishna’s liaison with Kubja in Mathura, and seeing Uddhava, they gave full vent to their spleen.

Lovers abandon the women they have loved like a veshya (prostitute] does a man who has no wealth: like subjects abandon the king who is impure: like students give up their teachers after they have learnt everything from them . . . like birds desert a tree which is stripped of its fruits: like guests take leave of the house where they have had their food: like a deer runs away from the forest which is burnt in a fire . ..

Krishna As Lover

Absorbed in voicing their long suppressed sentiments, they forgot the presence of Uddhava and began to talk to a bee who was flying around. Uddhava listened patiently to them but persisted in conveying Krishna’s central message which was the reason for his leaving Vrindavan:

This separation from me is good for you. It will make your love for me more intense. Your thoughts of me will become more constant and steady. The love for a distant object is always
greater than that one has for an object, a beloved object, which is within your reach. Please do not, even for a moment, think that I have abandoned you or that I have forgotten you. It can never be. I can never forget you and my love for you is the same as it was before, when I was with you in Vrindavan. Be comforted by my words and remember you will reach me very soon.

Krishna As Lover

Surdas and Nandadas used this incident mentioned in the Bhagavata to develop a distinct genre of verse called ‘Bhramargit’ (Songs of [or to] the bee). The Bhramargit dealt with the dialogue between Uddhava and the gopis; however, unlike as in the Bhagavata, this dialogue becomes much more transparently a means to juxtapose two different ways of approaching the divine: the path of jnana (knowledge) as against the path of bhakti (devotion). And needless to say, in this debating match, Uddhava, the spokesman of the jnana-marg, is suitably humbled.

In the Bhramargit of Surdas, the gopis make their point with telling clarity:

  • Udho, hearts like ours can’t change;
  • They’re dyed with Shyam’s pure blackness
  • and there’s no way to wash it away.
  • Spare us then your artful speeches
  • and let’s get down to the root of the matter:
  • The yoga you preach means no more to us
  • then campa flowers do to you bees
  • How could an insipid thing like that
  • erase the fate that is furrowed in our hands?
  • Show us Shyam instead, our delight;
  • one look, says Sur, and we’ll come to life.

When Uddhava speaks to them of trying to attain Krishna through meditation, the gopis retort that in their viyoga (separation) they have surpassed the ascetic’s concentration. When Uddhava persists with his philosophizing, the gopis are sharp in their rejoinder:

  • First teach yourself, you black honey bee,
  • before you start teaching others.
  • If you had lived through it,
  • then you’d know how exacting love can be.
  • You say your mind is still at Hari’s feet,
  • though you’ve brought your body here,
  • But without the living presence of his lotus eyes
  • who ever has found the true way?
  • So stay here in Gokul! What do you care,
  • since to you this world’s an illusion?
  • This was their challenge to Udho, says Sur:
  • See if there’s any difference between us.

The gopi’s argument had one invincible point: Uddhava was not qualified to lecture them because he had not experienced what the gopis had. Logic and rationality were beyond the purview of such a relationship. Wise counsels and learned discourses were of little avail. Philosophical dilutants could never weaken this bond. A moth, if it became aware of the folly of its action, would never go near a flame; but the fact that it did, and enjoyed doing so, pointed to the limitations of knowledge in guiding thought and action. Of what good was Uddhava’s nirguna divinity, the gopis asked, when it could do nothing to assuage the virahini’s pain of separation?

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