I have a book, a PhD thesis by Maura Corcoran, which is published in English here at the Vrindavan Research Institute. She was a student of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, which begat several other important scholars of Braj, including Alan Entwistle whose book on Braj (Braj: Center of Krishna Pilgrimage) is really the geographical and historical point of reference for the entire Braj region, encyclopedic in its scope. Another is Rupert Snell, who did his work here on Harivansha’s Hita Caurasi. It was the work of Ramdas Gupta, the founder of the VRI and professor of Hindi at SOAS, who built that connection. After his death, the connections between the two institutions seems to have weakened somewhat, but the historical connection is definitely there.
At any rate, to return to Maura Corcoran’s book, Vrindavan in Vaishnava Literature, in which she examines Vrindavan primarily from the mythological and symbolic points of view, rather than the geographical and historical. Although both of these are important to us at VT, we are generally more interested in the religious significance of the Dham, which is what she means by the mythological and symbolic viewpoint.
I have thought several times about serializing portions of her work, and today, primarily because I am looking into Dhruvadas’s work on Vrindavan, I thought I would extract what she writes about him in various portions of her book. That is to say, Dhruvadas’s writing as presenting a particular vision of Vrindavan. She often contrasts his vision with that found in representatives of other sampradayas — Surdas and Nandadas in particular from the Vallabhi school writing in Brajbhasha at that time, and Gaudiya writings, mostly in Sanskrit.
It maybe somewhat jagged since the author naturally assumes you are following her story, and to take things out of sequence is a bit misleading, especially where similarities and contrasts are made. On the whole, though, I did not think it necessary to make any additions or changes [except on very minor points I may have taken editorial liberty.]
Maura Corcoran on Dhruvadas’s vision of Vrindavan
Dhruvadas follows the Radhavallabha philosophy in its repudiation of any attempt to depict Krishna in a mythological context. Krishna is throughout depicted as an eternal principle uninvolved in either creation or incarnation.
The term avatāra itself is used in the sense of a minor deity father than as of the action performed by a deity. It is nowhere applied to Krishna himself, and the avatāras are depicted as coexistent with him. In a verse from Vṛndāvana-sata the partial incarnation (aṁśa and kalāvatāras)
vṛndāvana rasa sabana teṁ rākhyo dūri durāi ||42||
aṁśa kalā autāra je te sevata haiṁ tāhi
aise bṛndā vipina kauṁ mana baca kai avagāhi ||43||
Krishna and Radha are the source of the rasa, so the distinction between Krishna and the avatāras as well as their coexistence is evident.
In the poetry of Dhruvadas, Vishnu retains his cosmic attributes found in all the texts examined so far. As in the Gaudiya texts, Krishna is on the other hand eternally involved in the divine sport (vihāra) which is outside of creation.
The function of Vishnu as creator is described in the Bṛhadbāvana Purāṇa. The eternal sakhī is said to appear before the Vedas, who wish to know about the nature of the eternal rasa of the divine sport, and tells them that she must first carry out the command of the Lord:
prabhu ājñā ika bhāi hai so pahile kari laiṁhu |
tā pāchai jo pūchi hau tākau uttara daiṁhu ||6||
She thinks of Sripati, i.e, Vishnu, who appears and is ordered to create the universe.
sakhī kiyo jaba ciṁtavana śrīpati pragaṭe āi |
prabhu ājñā tinasoṁ bhaī sṛṣṭi racāvahu ||
After she has communicated the commands of the Lord, the sakhī explains to the Vedas that Krishna is eternally engrossed in the divine sport, which is unaffected by creation and destruction. The Vedas realize that the bewildering process of creation is nothing but a manifestation of a portion of the divine, represented by Narayana and the avatāras, whereas Krishna as he appears engaged in the eternal sport is complete:
vedahu jāne aṁśa saba miṭyau bharama tehi kāla |
samujhe pūrana sabani para nitya bihāri lāla ||
Creation is then initiated when Vishnu directs his thoughts towards Purusha and Prakriti and arouses in them the desire for sport:
śrīpati citayau hai jabahiṁ puruṣa prakṛti kī koda |
tihi china upajihiya meṁ kījai kachuka binoda ||71||
In this way the involvement of Vishnu in creation is clearly stated, as well as his inferior position with respect to Krishna, all of which is fully in accord with the Gaudiya outlook.
Where Dhruvadas differs most radically from the Gaudiya approach is with regard to the question of Krishna becoming manifest. Dhruvadas draws a distinction between Krishna in Vrindavan and Krishna in Braj, and it is only in the context of Braj that manifestation is regarded as a possibility. A work called Braja-līlā describes how the divine couple, Krishna and Radha, manifest themselves for the sake of the devotees:
nandalāla vṛṣabhāna kiśorī rasikani hita pragaṭī yaha jori ||3||
The son of Nanda and the daughter of Vrishabhanu,
for the sake of devotees this couple manifest itself. (Braja-līlā in Bayālisa-līlā, 3)
The use here of the epithets “Son of Nanda” and “Daughter of Vrishabhanu” may be noted. Neither is commonly used by Dhruvadas, and through their reference to the parents of Radha and Krishna, they evoke connotations of birth. The connection of the manifestation with Braj is made clear in two verses where it is described as having taken place in Braj, in both cases for the sake of devotees (rasikas). The first says that Radha and Krishna made manifest in Braj the līlā which is a treasure of rasa and gives happiness to the devotees:
rasa nidhi līlā braja pragaṭāī rasika janani kau ati sukhadāi ||5||
They made manifest in Braja the līlā which is treasure of rasa, and gave happiness to the devotees. (ibid. 5)
The second similarly describes how the youthful couple became manifest in Braj for the sake of the devotees:
rasikani hita vivi kuṁvara bana bhaye pragaṭa braja āṁni ||
For the sake of the rasikas the youthful couple became manifest in Braj. (ibid. 9)
Even in the above verses, terms such as taking birth or becoming incarnate are avoided. It is a manifestation, as in the Gaudiya texts, not an incarnation. It is a revelation of the divine sport of devotees. It is not, however, on the same level as the nitya-vihāra in Vrindavan, in which only the sakhis can participate, and in this respect Dhruvadas differs from the Gaudiya approach.
The distinction between Krishna in Braj, where he performs rasa with the gopis, and Krishna in Vrindavan, where the eternal sports of Radha and Krishna occur, is also indicated in Bṛhad-bāvana Purāna, Krishna tells the Vedas, who want to sport with him, to become manifest in Braj, where he will also manifest himself.
tina prati taba vāni bhai yaha prabhu tinhīṁ māni |
pragaṭa hohu braja jāya tuma hamahūṁ pragaṭaiṁ āni ||57||
Then they hear a voice which said that the Lord had agreed to this.. You become manifest in Braj and I will also become manifest. (ibid. 57)
Once again, the concept of manifestation is used with regard to Krishna in Braj alone and this is differentiated from the nitya-vihāra in Vrindavan.
In this way, Dhruvadas rejects the mythological structure of the BhP, much more totally than either Nandadas or the Gaudiya texts. The divine sports as an ever-present symbolic expression of the essential nature of the divinity as alone is stressed.
Vrindavan in the Nitya-vihāra
The distinction between līlā and nitya-vihāra is connected with the way in which texts distinguish between Braja Krishna and Vrindavan Krishna. According to Dhruvadas, the līlā which was manifested by Krishna in Braj for the sake of devotees was only the first stage of love.
pahili pair prema kī kīnhī vraja bistāra |
bhaktani hita līlā kari karunānidhi sukumāra ||
As the first step of love he made the expanse of Braja:
The youthful Krishna a mine of compassion, sported for the sake of his devotees. (BBP, 24)
The term bistāra, which comes from the Sanskrit root vi/stṛ meaning “to spread out, expand, diffuse,” in this context appears to give the sense of expansion and manifestation as opposed to the inner essence. Thus līlā is seen to be a form of expansion of the reality performed through the divine power, but not the innermost essence of that divine reality. Moreover, this manifold expression is not regarded as the acme of divine sport because it has a purpose, it is performed for the sake of devotees. Here a difference from the poetry of both Suradasa and Nandadasa may be noted, where the greatness of līlā lay in the very fact of its being an expression of love for devotees.
The contrast between the inner essence – vihāra – and the manifold expression – līlā – comes across clearly in a further verse of Dhruvadas where he says that vihāra is the essence of all manifold līlā which took place in Braj:
braj meṁ jo līlā carita bhayau jo bahuta prakāra |
sabako sāra bihāra hai rasikani kiya nirdhāra ||
The many and varied episodes of līlā in Braj –
the essence of all these is the vihāra, This is certainly what the rasikas have established. (BBP, 42)
Similarly in his Satabhajana, Dhruvadas states that one who has in his heart the beauty of Krishna as he appears in the vihāra, i.e., as a youth, will not like the līlās of adolescence, childhood and so forth.
In whose heart eternally remains the beauty of that youth of fresh appearance
his mind does not like even the līlā of childhood and boyhood. (Satabhajana, 59)
The difference here with Nandadasa lies in the fact that though Nandadasa regarded the youthful aspect as the essence, he still accepts the other activities as valid expressions of the divine, while Dhruvadas regards them as inessential distractions from the essential reality.
The divine nature of Vrindavan as well as its indispensable role in the nitya-vihāra is stressed by Dhruvadas. Vrindavan is, in fact, almost on a par with Radha, Krishna and the sakhis as one of the four eternal elements of the nitya-vihāra, Dhruvadas describes how Radha and Krishna eternally participate in an eternal pastime. Vrindavan is eternally co-existant. Lalita and the rest are their eternal playmates. Eternally they disport themselves in one single passion.
nita hi nitya vihāra karaiṁ yāme kachu na saṁdehu |
nitya sahaja bṛndā bipina nitya sakhī lalitādi |
nita hī bilasata eka rasa yugala kiśora anādi ||
The adjective nitya sahaja applied to Vrindavan in this passage is capable of a number of interpretations. Sahaja in its original meaning denotes “born with”. Taken in this sense, nitya-sahaja would imply eternally born with or co-existent with the nitya-vihāra to which reference was made in the previous line. This would reflect the inseparable relation spoken of earlier between the divine activity and the divine place.
Another possible interpretation is that Vrindavan in nitya-sahaja with the youthful couple (Radha and Krishna) mentioned in the following line. This would illustrate the relationship between the diversity and the divine place, implying a certain similarity of nature between the divine couple and Vrindavan. In either case, it is evident that for the nitya-vihāra all four elements are essential.
The divine nature of Vrindavan and its apartness from the material world is made explicit in a verse from the Vrindavana-sata, where Dhruvadas says that the wind of creation which is derived from māyā and the three gunas does not touch that forest which has no beginning or end and which gives eternal happiness.
ādi anta jākau nahiṁ nitya sukhada bana āhi |
māyā triguṇa prapañca kī pavana na parasata tāhi ||
The statement that Vrindavan is untouched by creation formed from the three gunas is similar in concept to the verse previously quoted from Rāsa-pañcādhyāya (see p. 79). Here again the point is emphasized that Vrindavan is not part of the material creation and so has no beginning or end, either in the sense of time or space. It is space in a purely symbolic sense.
In these verses of Dhruvadas, there is a decided emphasis on the eternal nature of the divine activity, the constant reiteration of the term nitya, eternal, conveys this sense. Such an emphasis corresponds to the concept of total manifestation and activity as the fullest expression of the divine and the unmanifest as complete reality. Since the activity is eternal, all of the elements involved in the activity are also eternal and Vrindavan in its role as divine space must also be eternal.
The use of yantric imagery in the poetry of Dhruvadas can be seen for example in his discussion of the relation between Vrindavan, Braj and Mathura. This is described in Rasika-kadamba-cūḍāmaṇi. In terms of circular areas, each is progressively superior as they proceed inwards. Thus the Braj maṇḍala is said to be within the Mathura maṇḍala and also superior to it.
baikuṇṭha hu te adhika hai mathurā maṇḍala jāni |
tāmeṁ tāhu te adhika vrajamaṇḍala sukha-khāni ||
In the center of the Braja maṇḍala, in turn, lies Vrindavan, which is compared to a jewel in a crown.
madhi rājata jyoṁ mukuṭa maṇi vṛndāvana rasa kanda ||
The term maṇḍala has, of course, also the connotation of an area or a district, so that the picture intended here could be a geographical one of a smaller district within a larger district rather than a symbolic circular image. The concept of a progression in circles from the innermost supreme point (bindu) outward, each circular area successively depicting an inferior manifestation of divine power resembles that of a yantra too closely, however, to be a mere coincidence. Moreover, the same gradation of Mathura, Braj and Vrindavan corresponding to the level of devotion as well as to the fullness of the divine manifestation has been seen to be depicted in symbolic terms in the texts discussed above, suggesting the presence of a tradition to this effect. It may be noted that here again the contrast between Braj and Vrindavan is seen in terms of a contrast between the eternal sport of Radha and Krishna with the rāsa with the gopis and the mythological contrast between vana and grāma.
Dhruvadas does occasionally use yantric imiages in other contexts as well. In his MuktāvalI līlā can be found the image of Vrindavan as a 16-petalled lotus upon a bejewelled circle with Krishna and Radha in the very center and a sakhi on each petal.
maṇḍala maṇimaya adhika virājai nirakhata koṭi bhāna sasi lājai |
tāpara kamala sudesa suvās ṣoḍasa dala rājate cahuṁ pāsā |
madhya kiśora kiśorī sohaiṁ dala dala prati sahacari chabi johaiṁ ||
Like Harivyasa deva, he also describes the Yamuna as encircling Vrindavan. In PremAvalI līlā, Dhruvadas compares the Yamuna to liquid love itself (śṛṅgāra-rasa) flowing in a circle around Vrindavan.
taranisutā cahūṁ disa bahai śobhā liye athāna |
manauṁ ḍharyau siṁgāra rasa kuṇḍala bāṁdhi pravāha ||
He goes on to compare the river to a necklace of blue gems worn by Vrindavan
āvata upamā aura ura adbhuta parama rasāla |
vṛndāvana pahirī manauṁ nīla manina kī māla ||
Both of these similes conjure up a circular picture compatible with that of the yantric concept, but not with the imagery of the BhP.
Identity of earthly and divine Vrindavan
The identity of the earthly and divine Vrindavan is made clear by Dhruvadas in his Vṛndāvana-sata. He says that though in the world, Vrindavan is supernatural.
vipina alaukika loka meṁ ati abhūta rasa kanda |
The paradox between alaukika and loka meṁ reflects the paradox in the nature of Vrindavan. This paradoxical situation is similarly inherent in a verse that says that though Vrindavan is on earth, it is higher than all other regions.
yadyapi rājata avani para saba taiṁ ūṁcau āhi |
The nearest that Dhruvadas comes to giving an explanation of the situation is in the statement that though the forest of Vrindavan shines forth in the world, ordinary eyes cannot see it due to the influence of Maya.
pragaṭa jagata meṁ jagamagai vṛndā-vipina anūpa |
naina achata dīsata nahīṁ yaha māyā kau rūpa ||
It is therefore only illusion that conceals the real nature of Vrindavan, just as it is illusion that prevents the soul from participating in the eternal sport.
As in the Gaudiya texts, the act of living in Vrindavan is described both as a physical practice and as a spiritual state. Because Vrindavan is deemed to be both in the world and not of it, any differentiation between the two conditions is almost undetectable. Certainly there are frequent references to apparently physical acts. Dhruvadas describes how when living in Vrindavan one should be satisfied with leaves and vegetables gathered every two or three days.
dūje tīje jo jurai sāka patra kachu āya |
tāhi soṁ saṁtoṣa kari rahai adhika sukha pāya ||
A further verse describes how the devotee wanders in the forest, clad in old clothes, his hair dishevelled, his heart filled with love, singing of the divine couple’s happiness.
jīrana paṭa ati dīna laṭa hiye sarasa anurāga |
vivasa saghana bana meṁ phirai gāvata yugala suhāga ||
Such a description of spiritual practice is reminiscent of the instructions of the BRS.
Also apparently in support of a physical understanding of the need to live in Vrindavan, is a comparison of such residence with visiting a pilgrimage place. Dhruvadas compares leaving Vrindavan for another pilgrimage place with abandoning a philosopher’s stone for the sake of a cowrie.
taji kai vṛndā vipina kauṁ aura tīrtha je jāta |
chāṁḍi vimala cintāmaṇi kauḍī kauṁ lalacāta ||
The equivalence of Vrindavan with a pilgrimage place is more apparent than real in this verse, since an important distinction is drawn between the two. Though a wish-yielding stone and a cowrie are both apparently stones, in actuality they are not of the same substance. Whereas one is mundane, the other is supernatural. In other words Vrindavan appears like any other pilgrimage place only to those who cannot perceive its real nature.
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