15.10.1 RASA LILA OF KRISHNA P.1
The fervent devotion to Krishna of the celebrated milk-maids (Gopis or Gopikas) of Brindavan, and particularly of RadhA the most prominent of them all, is the best example of mAdhura-bhakti (Devotion through Love) for all time. There is a large variety of legends and representations of this bhakti in painting and sculpture that spreads through every part of India. The first poetic expression of the RadhA-Krishna story was in the Gita-GovindaM of Jayadeva (12th century A.D.). The principal character in that poem is RadhA, the beloved of Krishna. She spoke no word except prayer. She moved no step except towards Krishna. She saw and heard only Krishna. She spoke only of Him, to Him, for Him, whoever might be in her vicinity. Krishna filled her heart entirely. This magnificent poem is held in high respect and is sung all over India particularly in congregatory singing of Bhajans, the singers often reaching heights of ecstasy. This lyrical extravaganza of Jayadeva is delightful poetry without inhibitions. It is at the very center of religious poetry in the Bhakti tradition, though it may be considered erotic from a Victorian viewpoint. It is venerated as God’s own writing. The singing and dancing associated with this poem are so absorbing not only in its music and rhythm but also in its lyric that describes the love-sport of Radha and Krishna.
What is the origin or source of all this? Is it Jayadeva’s imagination, fancy or invention? No. It all goes back to Shrimad BhagavataM of Vyasa. In the tenth skanda of Bhagavatam, there are five chapters (#s 29 to 33) known as ‘RAsa-panchAdhyAyi’. These five chapters describe the Raas LeelA of Krishna with the Gopis of Brindavan. But wait, before we come to that, we must tune our minds the right way in order to appreciate it all.
So let us go back to the famous story of Krishna’s theft of the clothes of the Gopis while they were bathing in the river. (Bhagavatam, Skanda X, Ch.22). It looks like an immoral story, with a child of six as the central figure. It is spoken of as though he were a full-grown man, insulting the modesty of women. Look at Annie Besant’s handling of this story. She writes:
‘The Gopis were Rishis, and the Lord Supreme as a babe is teaching them a lesson. But there is more than that. There is a profound occult lesson behind the story. When the Soul is approaching the Supreme Lord at one great stage of initiation, it has to pass through a great ordeal. Stripped of everything on which it has hitherto relied, stripped of everything that is not its inner self, deprived of all external aid, of all external protection, of all external covering, the soul itself, in its own inherent life, must stand naked and alone, with nothing to rely on save the life of the Self within it. If it flinches before the ordeal, if it clings to anything to which it has hitherto looked for help, if in the supreme hour, it cries out for friend or help, or even the Guru himself, the soul fails in that ordeal. Naked and alone it must go forth, with absolutely none to aid it save the divinity within itself. And it is that nakedness of the soul as it approaches the supreme goal, that is told of in that story’.
This defence of the conceptual fabric of Hindu spirituality is important for the proper understanding of the Raas LeelA of Krishna. In addition, there is another perspective that should never be missed in any discussion of the Raas LeelA. It is the divinity of Krishna himself.
The first description of His birth comes to us from the pen of Vyasa himself in his famous Bhagavatam. It was on that Ashtami day after Shravan Poornima, when the moon was in the asterism Rohini that Krishna was born in that famous prison of Kamsa of Mathura. According to the hair-raising description of that birth in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, tenth canto, third chapter, it was in the dense darkness of that fateful night, the Lord appeared – mark the word, appeared, not born – as an unusual child from the womb of Devaki, just like the moon rising on the eastern horizon! Oh, what a sight it was! Continues the BhagavataM: (X – 3 -9,10):
catur-bhujaM shankha-gadAry-udAyudhaM /
pItAmbaraM sAndra-payoda-saubhagaM //
tvishhA parishhvakta-sahasra-kuntalaM /
virAjamAnaM vasudeva aikshhata” //
meaning, Vasudeva saw that wonderful child with four hands, holding a conch, a mace, a chakra and a lotus; with Srivatsa emblem on His chest; with Kaustubha gem on the neck; with cloth of golden hue; as beautiful as the blue water-filled cloud; with dense hair flowing around amidst the adornments of crown and ear-rings radiant with precious gems; and excellently brilliant with bracelets around the hip and arms.
Either you believe in all this or you don’t. If you don’t believe in all this then Raas LeelA of Krishna is also a fiction in the imagination of Vyasa and there is nothing more to discuss except some poetry in the literature. If you believe in all this, then Raas-LeelA of Krishna should also be believed to be true. Not only should it be believed to be a true happening but you also get a justification for it. So when doubts arise as to the good or bad of Raas LeelA, remember, you have accepted that the birth of Krishna in the above manner is true and that means Krishna is the all-powerful Absolute Divine.
A discussion of Raas-LeelA thinking that Krishna was an ordinary person like you and me is a misnomer and a non-issue. We shall not enter the discussion of Raas-LeelA that way. We shall only discuss Raas-LeelA, with the full conviction that Krishna is the Absolute Transcendental Divinity that is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. Lacking this conviction we would have denied ourselves the fundamental eligibility to discuss Raas LeelA, and more so the prerequisites to be able to appreciate it.