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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Krishna Das Madrasi Baba hagiography

Review. The life and teachings of Krishna Das Baba of Radhakund.

Recently Karuṇāmayī Dās gave me a copy of his book 'The life and teachings of Krishna Das Baba of Radhakund', published by Nitāi Dās. On pages xxvi and xxvii of the introduction Nitāi speaks in a way about the author of his own publication of which I wonder if it is Vaiṣṇava etiquette, as I've never read such comments before in any other introduction to a Vaiṣṇava publication. Nitāi speaks of Karuṇāmayī's 'bombastic style of writing', 'plethora of 'shri-s' and 'lotus-feet', 'filled with emotional effusiveness, enthusiastic declamations and hyperbolic exclamations'. I disagree with Nitāi and his fellow devotee/academics that such use of language is 'Indic' (culturally relative) and should be edited out - rather it is devotional language and devotion knows no culture or language - and if this is not 'western style' writing we'll simply MAKE it western style. It's better than so many other cross-cultural 'innovations' introduced in our sampradāya I'd say. On page xxxiii-xxiv he gives a nice example though, that literacy (let alone scholarship) or chanting millions of rounds like a machine is the (only) way to siddhi by quoting the example of Kṛṣṇa Prasād Dās Bābā, who attained siddhi by serving a householder Vaiṣṇava without being able to do any chanting or studying.

Having said all this, I admit that Nitāi's editing is done well and leaves the text devotional. He also did an excellent job on the glossary, the explanation of one word even spreading over 2 pages. 26 words are glossed over 14 pages! Along with his introduction these are great bonuses. Since I last read the Madrasi Baba hagiography (originally edited by yours truly), Karuṇāmayī Dās has edited many nice new things, too.

On page 97 it is said that the devotee in Vraja's dāsya rasa fears that Kṛṣṇa may not talk to him if he commits an offence. This is new to me and I wonder if there is any evidence for this.

Nitāi's invention of the word 'grace-food' for prasāda (p. 122-3) is interesting, though I think that most readers will know and prefer the word 'prasāda'.

On page 131 Nitāi Dās (this book is really half his) explains that the four yugas are named after the four throws at Indian dice - Kṛta (four dots), Tretā (triads, three dots), Dwāpara (deuce, two dots) and Kali (lose, one dot).

All in all this book is a sweet reminder of the Vaiṣṇava that I spent 5 years (1984-1989) with on the bank of Śrī Rādhākuṇḍa and who was appointed as my 'foster-Guru' by Śrī Sādhu Bābā for that time.


  1. Advaita-ji

    Thanks for the review. I've picked up a few of the other books on Nitai's imprint, but haven't gotten this yet. I think I will do so now.

    As for Nitai's comments on writing style, I'm not familiar with Karunamayi's style, but I don't think Nitai is too off on some of it. Personally I think 'devotional writing' has been tainted with many of the quirks introduced by ACBS. For example - 'The Supreme Personality of Godhead' certainly is an odd phrasing - and I think 'Bhagavan' should just replace it. Nitai also has quite excellent writing skills and I find that his translations flow very nicely.

    That said, replacing 'prasad' with 'grace-food'(?!?) seems capricious. We are 40+ years into GV's introduction to the west, and I think 'prasad' can stand as its own word.

  2. I think both words Bhagavan and Prasaad are only known to Indian Hindus - the larger western public wouldn't understand these words. Words like Guru, karma and so can be used freely because everyone knows them.

  3. Nice book .. Karunamayi das write it wich great love to his Guru . Very Lucky and good example .