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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Sītā Caritra and Nandinī-Jangalī

Thanks to Yadupati for sending me an essay by Rebecca J. Manring, called Sita Devi, an Early Vaishnava Guru, about Sri Sita Devi, the spouse of Advaita Prabhu. Here are some interesting paragraphs from it, explaining the origin of Nandini and Jangali, the ‘cross-dressing’ disciples of Sītā-devī, which were mentioned in Prema-vilāsa and Advaita Mangala, stories that were quoted in my book ‘The Glories of Sri Advaitacarya’:

“The author of the Advaita Mangala even describes the first feast Advaita Acharya held after his marriage, to introduce his disciples to his new wife. The texts in fact state that Sita treated these boys and young men as if they were her own sons. And so it would not have been much of a stretch for these students to take the next leap of faith, once their guru had departed, to align themselves with the person who was closest to that guru in some clearly visible ways — his widow. That is apparently exactly what happened: Her husband’s students, her foster sons, in a sense, shifted her into the position of authority recently vacated by her husband.”
“According to Lokanatha Dasa’s Sita Charitra, her problems begin when two male seekers—Yajneshvara and Nandarama—approach her for instruction, and she is obligated to refuse them on gender grounds. Their story is rich in clues to Sita’s theological identity and the ways her movement chose to accommodate and contain that identity. Nandarama is a brahman, and his friend Yajneshvara is a shudra (the fourth major caste group) from a farming family. Both are great devotees of Krishna, and have decided to seek out a suitable guru. Nandarama remembers having been given a mantra some time previously by Sita, in Shantipur, so the pair set out in search of her. Sita greets them warmly, but tells them that she can only teach other women. Nevertheless she gives them the Radha mantra and some rudimentary advice: to worship Radha and Krishna, visualizing themselves as attendants in the divine couple’s trysting place.”

(Commentary by Advaitadas: This is odd, because the Advaita Vaṁśa does not bestow initiation in Rādhā mantra. It could be Sītā-devī’s personal gift to these two devotees, a special case to accomplish the following līlā:)
“The two disappear, only to reappear a short time later dressed as gopis, the young cowherd women of Vraja who were Krishna’s close friends and lovers, complete with braided hair, anklets, bangles, skirts and bodices. They announce that the practice of repeating Radha’s mantra has effected a sex change in them. This is an amazing claim!”
“Not satisfied simply to take their word that the two men are now women, Sita examines the evidence, Lokanatha writes, and then agrees that she can now instruct them. And from this time on Nandarama and Yajneshvara are known as Nandini and Jangali, and live out the remainders of their lives as women. So great was their devotion and their desire to learn from Sita rather than from any other guru that these two were willing to relinquish their very maleness to do so.”
“The author of the Sita Charitra, writing at a time when the sakhi bhavas were coming under sectarian assault, used Sita’s hagiographical image to define the sakhi bhavas as women and then to connect their sect to a venerable branch of the greater Gaudiya Vaishnava community.”

(Commentary by Advaitadas: With sakhī bhāvas the author means sakhī bhekhīs, men who dress like gopīs. Nandinī and Jangalī are not sakhī bhekhīs, because they actually had a gender change. Sakhī-bhekhīs are physically men, though some go as far as castration, but they never mystically change gender. The author mentioned in the previous paragraph: “Sītā-devī examines the evidence”, which means that an actual gender change took place, and this must have been a mystical sex change caused by their practice of the Rādhā-mantra, because in those days no surgeon would have had the know-how or the instruments to perform such an operation on them. Concluding statement: The members of the Advaita Parivāra are not cross-dressers - the above pastime is a special Līlā performed by Sītā-devī and her disciples, it does not stand as a general rule. I just posted this story because it was new to me and sheds more light on the origins of Nandinī and Jangalī)

The author informed me that unfortunately she has no copy of Sītā Caritra herself, otherwise I would have asked her to send me a copy and much more may have been learned about Sītā Devī.

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