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Friday, May 02, 2008

Veṇu Gīta

Book review
Venu Gita by Shivaram Swami.


It seems to me this book serves as many political purposes as it does devotional purposes. I suspect this to be an attempt by the author to compose a 'bonafide' rasik book, with the stamp of GBC approval on it, to prevent devotees from leaving Iskcon to search for a rasika guru or go and read rasika books elsewhere. The author's own, admittedly tasty, writing, is interspersed with quotations from my translations, often verbatim copy-paste, though I am probably not considered 'bonafide' by the author and his associates. This type of practise has already occurred before with some of my work being 'borrowed' by persons who openly profess that anyone who is not a member of their organization is 'bogus'. It is very much to be seen whether this type of subtstitutes are going to keep people from buying 'outside translations', since only fragments of the Gosvāmīs' līlā-granthas are being quoted here. Indeed, it may even increase curiosity after the full picture, though I suppose the author's faithful followers will be satisfied with his presentation. Whether such satisfaction is lobha or not is to be questioned.

My translations of Govinda Līlāmṛta (ch.5) and Utkalikā Vallari (2 and 4) are copied and pasted into chapter 1, which is ended by the author claiming that "It is simply a matter of reviving one's lost constitutional relationship." though there is no scriptural evidence of us having a lost constitutional relationship. The author is regularly quoting his Guru inside the text to assure his readers that it is really not 'sahajīya' of him to speak about Kṛṣṇa's flute playing and the gopīs' reactions to it.

Chapter one includes the claim "By offering a ghee lamp to Rādhā-kuṇḍa, the performer will see the universe during his bath.." which, even if it is anywhere in śāstra, is really not the boon which is to be coveted by worshipers of the Kuṇḍa. The prahelī (verbatim) and Prema Vaicittya līlās (in his own words) are being quoted without bothering about any sequence of time or season. Most of the text, perhaps 85%, is a patchwork of all kinds of things the author has picked up here and there, very little is his own writing.

In chapter 2 the author starts a narration of some fictitious satsaṅga in Māyāpur between some devotees, alledgedly disciples of Bhaktivinode, very much in the style of Bhaktivinode's Jaiva Dharma. There seems to be absolutely no line or sequence in the book, everything passes the review, of which I wonder if that is bonafide for a prose text. I could find no serious cases of rasābhāsa or viruddha siddhānta.

The author's quotation of the reversed Rāsa līlā from Kṛṣṇa Bhāvanāmṛta in chapter 4 is in his own words, not copy/pasted from yours truly.

In chapter 5 he takes over Ānanda Gopāl Gosvāmī's narration (in Vilāpa Kusumāñjali 80) of how the mañjarīs call Kṛṣṇa a fool because of associating with cows and cowherds. Later that same chapter Swāmījī, once, adopts Kṛṣṇadās Bābājī's format of describing how Mahāprabhu relishes the līlā with his associates, in this case how He snaps out of the madhyāhna līlā. In what seems to be his personal write-up the author places Rādhikā in Barsānā, perhaps not realizing that Barsānā is the abode of Her parents, where She grew up, not the place (Yāvat) where She resides when She has pastimes with Kṛṣṇa.

In chapter 7 the author summarizes Mādhava Mahotsava - it is as if he wants to cram all the Gosvāmīs' books into one 'bona fide' book, making all other books superfluous.

Later he quotes my translation of the prayers of the devas in Govinda Līlāmṛta 19.38-45 almost verbatim, just changing a few syllables here and there.

Chapter Eight contains, predictably, a summary of the Pearl Story of Raghunāth Dās Gosvāmī.
It also contains a story I did not hear before, of Kṛṣṇa squirting milk into the gopīs' faces while milking the cows at Ter Kadamb and sending a cow gallopping unto them. Perhaps I missed something or this is the author's own composition.

Chapter Nine contains the śuka-śāri pralāpa from Govinda Līlāmṛta and a hitherto not narrated odd pow-wow held by Mukharā, Paurṇamāsī and the gopīs about the wicked Jaṭilā. Then follows a quick succession of Dāna Līlā, Niśānta Līlā and Gaura līlā, finally culminating in Svapna Vilāsa - it is almost dazzling.

The author seems to be attracted to Rāma-līlā too, because almost each chapter carries some narration about Sītā-Rām in it.

Chapter Ten includes the story from Gopāl Tāpanī Upaniṣad, how the gopīs approached Durvāsā Muni, and flows seamlessly into the boating līlā (in context of crossing the Yamunā), which again even includes the gopīs stealing Kṛṣṇa's flute.

Chapter Eleven starts with a fictituous story of one Raghunāth Dās brahmacārī approaching his Guru Govinda Vidyāratna and interviewing him about Kṛṣṇa's maugdhya in Viśvanāth Cakravartī's Rāga vartma Candrikā. The author quotes some nice ṭīkās here of Jīva Gosvāmī to the Veṇu-Gīta. On Raghunāth's request Vidyāratna, who turns out to be different from Vidyābhūṣaṇa, then predicts the appearance of the author's Guru, who will open 108 temples travelling in metal vimānas (airplanes) and write a new commentary on the śāstras.

The author shows great love for Girirāja, as he writes a lot about him. In chapter 14 he narrates the Dāna Keli Cintāmaṇi story in brief.

Towards the end he comes with the morning recollection of Śyāmalā and Rādhikā and in chapter 15 he quotes Ānanda Gopāl Gosvāmī and Ananta Dās Bābājī verbatim ("Everybody says 'Give, give!' only Rādhikā says 'Take take!' etc).

The book was completed in July 1998, when my books were not yet published but were available in xerox format, and obviously had floated into the author's office somehow.

I suppose the ultimate verdict on this book should be made by a real sāhitya nipuṇa, someone expert in Vedic literature. Perhaps it is all according to the rules, perhaps the rules simply don't count for English 'sāhitya'.

3 comments:

  1. As always your book reviews are great stuff!

    In his quotations from your Govinda Lilamrita book did he give you credit, like.. taken from GovindaLilamrta translated by advaita das?

    The story about Radhika squirting milk onto Krishna's face, I've read that before in Narayan Maharaj's Braja Mandal Parikram book.

    Radhe Radhe

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  2. Frankly speaking, Malati, I made the review from an e-copy of the book and I dont have a hard copy, so I wouldnt be able to tell. Perhaps they have a hard copy in the Amsterdam temple, I could try to figure it out the next time I am there.

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  3. The author does say towards the end of the book: (I) have almost completed my humble attempt at including the commentaries of Srila Sridhara Svami, Srila Sanatana Gosvami, Srila Jiva Gosvami and Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, as well as relevant narrations from other Gaudiya Vaisnavas' works in this book entitled Krsna in Vrndavana, The Song of the Flute.

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