kṛṣṇākhyaṁ gaura-nīla-dvaya-madhura-mahas tat-padāmbhoruhe ca |
āścaryaḥ śuddha-bhāvaḥ parama-padam athāruhya tan-niṣṭha evā-
ścaryaḥ kaścin mahātmā parama-suviralas tadvad āścarya eva ||
This Vrindavan is an amazing abode, for here dwells an amazing sweet effulgence of blue and gold light named Radha-Krishna. And somewhere here, there is a great soul who has an amazing pure mood of love for their lotus feet, who has risen to the supreme destination through fixed devotion to them alone. Such a supremely rare soul is truly amazing, just like Vrindavan itself. (1.57)
Now that Prabodhananda’s mind has become a little settled, he focuses in again on Vrindavan and the devotees who live there, in particular the one who has inspired him with his pure mood of devotion for the Divine Couple. Overcome with excitement, Prabodhananda takes shelter of a poetic device he returns to again and again in his works, that of repeating a word to extract the full range of its implications. From the calm state of equilibrium of the previous verse, he marvels at the wonder of this amazing Dham in which the Supreme Truth has been revealed in the dual form of Radha and Krishna, and he cannot stop repeating the word āścarya, “amazing”!
The verse is thus somewhat reminiscent of the Gita verse 2.29, where after describing to Arjuna the spiritual reality of the soul, Krishna says that it is truly a wonder, amazing.
āścaryavad vadati tathaiva cānyaḥ |
āścaryavac cainam anyaḥ śṛṇoti
śrutvāpy enaṁ veda na caiva kaścit ||
Some see this ātmā as a marvel. Some others speak of it as a marvel. Yet others hear of it and marvel at it. But even after hearing of it, no one really knows it in truth. (2.29)
The commentators say the word here is used to mean that the ātmā is difficult to know. It is as though Krishna is telling Arjuna, “I can understand that you are finding it difficult to understand the nature of the soul, which I have just described, since it is still not a part of your direct experience. And even when you do experience it, since you only touch the edge of the infinite ocean of the experience of the spiritual reality, you will only be even more astounded by incredulity!”
Madhusudan Saraswati says that the paradox of the soul is that though it is eternal and possessed of all the other qualities that Krishna had described, it seems to be otherwise due to our conditioned state. Therefore, whenever we get a slight perception of that spiritual reality, the experience is always accompanied by amazement.
As it is with the soul in the Gita, so too it is with Vrindavan in even greater measure, for even after hearing or speaking of it, it still remains a mystery.
The word āścarya moreover indicates the principal quality that characterizes rasa. This is stated in the Sāhitya-darpaṇa (3.3):
tac camatkāra-sāratve sarvatraivādbhuto rasaḥ ||
In the experience of rasa, the essence is surprise, for without it rasa is not rasa. Since surprise or astonishment is its principal characteristic, the adbhuta-rasa or sentiment of wonder is omnipresent in effective works of drama.
The idea is that wonder is omnipresent in spiritual life and at every step of spiritual experience, which is why the soul and God are so powerfully attractive. Were it not a profound mystery, it would not have any power to attract or to supersede other kinds of wondrous experience. This is true no matter what particular vision one has of the Divine. For the devotee, the recognition of God’s grace adds yet another dimension to all experiences in life that enhances them, or gives them more rasa.
Those who rationalize everything to eliminate the sense of wonder can never succeed no matter how they try. For the devotee, every moment of existence is miraculous and filled with grace and astonishment. That sense of astonishment reaches its apex in Vrindavan, for the ultimate experience of rasa is in prema, and that prema in its purest, most amazing form is Radha and Krishna.
Madhusudana Saraswati, the great Vedantist, like Prabodhananda uses the image of light to contrast the image of Krishna with the vision of the light of Brahman sought by the yogis.
jyotiḥ kiṁ ca, na yogino yadi paraṁ paśyanti paśyantu te |
asmākaṁ tu tad eva locana-camatkārāya bhūyāc ciraṁ
kālindī-pulineṣu yat kim api tan nīlaṁ maho dhāvati ||
If the yogis see the supreme truth as qualityless, inactive and light alone through their minds controlled by the practice of meditation, so be it. Let them see what they see. For us, however, may that divine blue light that wanders by the banks of the Yamuna always dazzle our eyes with his beauty.
So, on getting a perception of that divine wondrous reality that is manifest in Vrindavan, Prabodhananda continues with the second half of the verse: That pure emotion of love (bhāva) is also a miraculous wonder, not only that mahābhāva of Radha, but of the pure devotee, who is, like Vrindavan itself, a miracle, a wonder of the world. If one becomes astonished on recognizing the profundity of a devotee’s love for God, one is well on his way to perfecting his or her spiritual life.
The word niṣṭha is significant because the unswerving commitment to the Object of Love is the most recognizable quality of the devotee.
See also 1.33 for the likelihood that this is a reference to Harivamsh.
See previous 1.56