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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reconstructing tradition (2)

This is the 2nd part of a 3-part series on Rebecca Manring's book on Advaita Prabhu and the Advaita Parivāra, called 'Reconstructing tradition', posted to coincide with the Advent Day of Advaita Prabhu. Today 4 subjects: Songs about Advaita Prabhu, various small booklets, some more details on Vijay Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmī and the Advaita Bālya Līlā Sūtra.

Padāvalī means ‘series of songs’ and is a very important and popular bhakti-experience, especially in Bengali Vaiṣṇavism. Mrs. Manring quotes a sample or two in her book, and notes that most of the songs about Advaita Prabhu were not written by His own followers, members of His lineage. There are very few songs about Advaita Prabhu’s pastimes other than those that specifically deal with Mahāprabhu’s pastimes in which Advaita might have played a role. This one (her translation) is about Advaita Prabhu’s advent, written by Ghanaśyām Dās:

On the seventh day of the bright fortnight of the month of Magh,
The ocean of great bliss burst forth.
That moon Advaita descended from Labha’s blessed womb at the auspicious moment.
(His father) Kubera Pandit was thrilled,
And gave various gifts to brahmins and the poor
He raced into the childbirth-room and sw his son’s face
And his heart rejoiced
All the people of Navagram came running, and told each other
They had never seen a child like this.
Mishra in his old age, as the result of his good deeds,
Got a jewel of a son like this.
The gods rained flowers down upon them,
There has never been anything like it
The sound ‘victory! victory!’ filled the world
Ghanasyam proclaims this great glory

Mrs. Manring then continues in chapter 3 of her book with reviewing other booklets about Advaita Prabhu, starting with the Advaitoddeśa Dīpikā, written by Devakīnandan Das, said to be a śiṣya of Kṛṣṇa Miśra Prabhu. He claims that Advaita Prabhu is the cowherd boy Ujjvala, Śrī Kṛṣṇa as the son of Vasudev, Viśākhā (we follow him in that), Sampūrṇa Mañjarī (that was also claimed in Advaita Mangal) and Sadāśiva (we follow him in that too). This is quite a different picture from what Sādhu Bābā had given me - he said Advaita Prabhu is Madhumangal (instead of Ujjval) in sakhya rasa, Mahāviṣṇu (instead of pūrṇatara (2nd class) Kṛṣṇa in Mathura, though perhaps Devakīnandan and Haricaraṇa see them as one and the same), and Rati Mañjarī (instead of Sampūrṇa Mañjarī, which would make no sense. If Advaita Prabhu is so prominent in Gaur-līlā, how could he be a totally unknown and unmentioned mañjarī named Sampūrṇa instead of the famous and foremost Rati Mañjarī?) Mrs. Manring tries to reconcile Advaita being equated with Kṛṣṇa in Mathurā by making the point that Yogamāyā (Sītā devī) appeared along with Kṛṣṇa in Mathurā in Kaṁsa's dungeon. Interesting in any case is that Sītā and Advaita did appear historically before Mahāprabhu, as Yogamāyā always appears before the Lord Himself does. In our branch of the family Sītā and Advaita are considered one tattva and are thus both Yogamāyā. In both Advaitoddeśa Dīpikā and Advaita Mangal Sītā devī is called Kanaka Sundarī, which Mrs. Manring attempts to explain as follows: 'This Golden Beauty is not one of the mañjarīs, but she is instrumental in facilitating the love play of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa....In Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Abhidhāna Haridās Dās describes her simply as Rādhā's maidservant." It may be just another aspect or name of Yogamāyā. In the end of her review of the Dīpikā, Mrs. Manring reveals that Devakīnandan is actually a son of Balarām Gosāi's third wife, though he claims allegiance to both Kṛṣṇa Miśra and Balarām Miśra. Balarām became the head of a branch which claimed Advaita Himself was actually the Supreme Lord (rather than Mahāprabhu. This is called advaita-pāramya vāda), whereas Kṛṣṇa Miśra (from whom Sādhu Bābā descends) accepted Mahāprabhu as supreme. The advaita-pāramya vādīs seem to have moved to Assam, but they are now extinct.

The booklet Advaita Svarūpāmṛta, by Kānudeva Goswāmī, confirms the svarūpas that were ascribed to Advaita Prabhu in Advaita Mangal and Advaitoddeśa Dīpikā, but nonetheless, equating Sītādevī with Rādhā is clearly off the tracks, even if it is done so in three separate books by three separate authors. For starters, if Advaita would be Kṛṣṇa in Mathurā,  how would He match with Rādhā in Vraja? I wonder if there was any relation between Haricaraṇa, Devakīnandan and Kānudeva, in dīkṣā, śikṣā or genetically. Kānudeva does confirm the equation of Sītā and Paurṇamāsī, which we also maintain.

Mrs. Manring reminds us that the Sanatkumāra Saṁhitā, quoted by many a bābājī as an authoritative text, has actually only a few chapters left in existence (which makes one wonder if the remaining text ever existed), which happen to be the ones about rāgānugā bhakti and aṣṭakāliya līlā.

Advaitācārya has also not been spared by the sahajīyas - like all others in Gaura līlā, illicit sexual practises have been falsely ascribed to Him too, particularly in a booklet named Advaita Sūtra Korcā, in which they claim Mādhavendra Purīpāda personally instructed him in the sexual rites with other men's wives - too sick to elaborate on, of course. Mrs. Manring suggests, probably rightly so, that the sahajīyas hijack each associate of Mahāprabhu, projecting and ascribing their perversions on them to gain respect and credibility, a 'political ploy'. Fortunately such booklets are totally unavailable and only respectable literature on Sītānātha remains on the market.

There are two books named Advaita Vilāsa, one by Vīreśvar Prāmāṇik, a compilation from 1899, apparently compiled on Bijay Kṛṣṇa Goswami's request, and an older one by an unknown Narahari Dās, which is not considered authoritative by Haridās Dāsjī. It more or less gives the regular stories on Sītānāth. There is even a booklet about Sītānāth for children, named Advaitācārya, written by Amiya Kānti Datta from Śrī-haṭṭa (Sītānāth's birth region where he may still be popular). At the end of the book Mrs. Manring learns that Prāmāṇik might have edited the books afterwards. Advaita Acarya has also been the source of inspiration for many a padakartā (Bengali songwriter) like Balarām Dās, Locan Dās, Ghanaśyām Dās, and Mrs. Manring provides nice English translations of the songs.

On page 111 Mrs. Manring starts discussing Advaita Prabhu's most famous descendent, Bijoy Kṛṣṇa Gosvami (see my blogs of May 23, 2007 and April 19, 2006) adding more details to his biography, for me at least. So it is described (quoting from Viṣṇu Caran Dāsa’s ‘Life of Vijay Kṛṣṇa') that when his mother Swarṇamayī Devī was pregnant with him she had wondrous dreams. She was in the backyard when the time for his birth approached. She fainted as her labor began, awakening to find the child in her arms and the placenta nearby on the ground. Later, when Vijay studied in Kolkata, his room-mate ripped him off so badly that he had to hit the streets begging for food, and later took another room with that same fellow after he (the roommate) had lost all the stolen money by gambling. It is then that he joined the Brahmo Samaj in 1866 (aged 25). Interestingly, Mrs. Manring claims (p.113): "…..if Vijay Kṛṣṇa is to be held up as a model Vaiṣṇava, then he must of course be dualistic in his religious approach. His hagiographers are all admirers if not disciples. They use this portion (of non-dualistic practise) of (his) life to demonstrate the seductiviness of monism. None directly criticizes this approach, but all are clearly more interested in their subject's return to his family's religious origins (of bhakti)." And, on the following page, "Many of Vijay's hagiographers describe his involvement with the Brahmo Samaj as a necessary step back to the devotional practises of his earlier days...."
Vijay’s seven commandments, which he preached from Gandaria Ashram in Dhākā, are listed on page 117:

1. Never indulge in self-praise
2. Never speak ill of others
3. Nonviolence is a great virtue
4. Have compassion for all
5. Place implicit reliance on the scriptures and the holy men
6. Avoid, like poison, what is incompatible with the tenets of the scriptures and the saints
7. Egoism is the worst enemy

About the time that Vijay Kṛṣṇa lived in Bāblā (his beautiful abode outside of Śāntipur) Mrs. Manring provides the following anecdotes (p.118): “Villagers would often hear beautiful devotional music at this spot but could never find the people who were singing. Vijay Kṛṣṇa said the music was echoing from Caitanya’s time.” And: “One day as he meditated here at Bāblā, Vijay Kṛṣṇa noticed a dog’s unusually persistent interest in one particular spot. Curious, Vijay began digging at the same place, and found a pair of wooden sandals and a set of brass pots used for worship. When he saw ‘Kamalākṣa’ (Advaita Prabhu’s birthname) carved on the sandals he realized they were Advaita Ācārya’s own belongings. To sanctify the place and commemorate the important discovery, he had a small temple built, elevated so that worshipers must climb a flight of stairs to enter. The artifacts have been enshrined beneath the temple images….Vijay Kṛṣṇa suggested to the dog that he now give up his body, since his life’s work was done. The next morning people found the animal’s corpse on the riverbank.” Towards the end of his life Vijay Kṛṣṇa Goswāmī instructed his disciple Gopālchandra Goswāmī to ask Vīreśvara Prāmāṇik to compose a work on the life of Advaita Ācārya, and he produced the Advaita Vilāsa, which (I haven't read it myself) appears to be a regular compilation taken from the major Advaita-biographies, with the exception that it claims that Lābhā Devi committed Satī after her husband Kuber Paṇḍit passed away.

In chapter 5 of the book Mrs. Manring casts some doubts on Lauḍīya Kṛṣṇa dās’ Advaita Bālya līlā Sūtra, saying that the Sanskrit verses are sometimes out of metre and wonders why the book is never quoted elsewhere. I think the logical response to that would be, ‘Caitanya Bhāgavat and Caitanya Caritāmṛta focused on Mahāprabhu – there was simply no place there for digressions into Advaita’s personal pastimes.’ To the Sanskrit issue I would reply that perhaps Lauḍīya Kṛṣṇadas (King Divyasiṁha) was not really a Sanskrit-crack, so he might have made mistakes here and there. Later on, Mrs. Manring acknowledges that the Advaita Bālya Līlā Sūtra is mentioned in the Advaita Prakāśa (sanskṛte racilā prabhura bālya-līlā-sūtra, 3rd verse before last of the 6th chapter). Not only that, most if not all material of the Bālya līlā Sūtra has been covered by Advaita Prakāśa, which makes it the best hagiography available about Advaita Prabhu, both in quality and in quantity. After the razing of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhyā in December 1992, Muslims in Bangladesh retaliated by razing the major library in Sylhet (Śrīhaṭṭa, the birthplace of Advaita Prabhu in current Bangladesh), thereby destroying the – possibly – only leftover copies of Bālya līlā Sūtra and Sītā Caritra.

After Advaita Prabhu’s disappearance, Iśāna Nāgara returned to East Bengal, got married and had children (though he was already 70 years old). He passed away shortly afterwards, but not before making many disciples. His eldest son Puruṣottama also made many disciples. The family became known as Nāgara-Advaitas (not to be confused with Gaura Nāgarīs) and were considered part of Sītā-Advaita’s family. On page 166, while reviewing Advaita Prakāśa, Mrs. Manring tells us that Sītānātha’s original Madangopāl-deity, which he found under the bushes at Vṛndāvana’s Advaita Vat, is actually in the Madangopāl temple in Śāntipur but is locked up in storage because it is too old and worn to be worshipped.

(To be continued................)

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if it has anything to do with the two blogs I posted about the wrong embedding of the PDF files on my site but the site has enjoyed an unprecedented surge of hits these last two days - 46 yesterday and 52 today. And just as I was so disappointed that either nobody reads it (since no one warned me about the diacritics failure for 7 long months) - it seems the site is ready when the people are ready for it, or vice versa.....