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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Vaiṣṇava dress (2)

There was a lively debate on Facebook about my Vaiṣṇava-dress blog, so i decided to post a sequel to that blog containing some of the best parts of that debate, and more feedback on the issue.

• Anonymous bhakta - The instance of the Gosvāmī (Sanātan) dressing as a fakir, and Mahāprabhu asking him to change his clothes should be enough to silence all significant doubts that clothing is not inconsequential. Though it is not inconsequential, it is not all-important. Is that agreeable to you, Pandit Ji?

Advaita Das - The point of the fakir is well taken. In short, spirituality is absolute. There is no lower or higher issue, no external or internal. Dress is not to be played down nor to be overstressed. sevā sādhaka rūpena siddha rūpena cātra hi."

Anonymous bhakta- This is a brilliant application of
sevā sādhaka rūpena siddha rūpeṇa siddha rūpena cātra hi" Thank you for that. I feel that we are in full agreement, "Not to be played down nor to be overstressed." I heard that covering of the head and perhaps the sārī itself (or the manner of wearing the top portion of it over the head) is introduced from non-indian sources during classical Indic history. If you can address this I would be grateful. Your pointing out that the gopis wear three outer cloths was also important in the post. Thank you. I love your scholarship and passionate (in a good way) presentation. i don't want to push you into a scholar's dry viewpoint - a devotees inspired viewpoint, which you already have, is certainly better. But since Vilāpa Kusmāñjali was written only a few hundred years ago it may not satisfactorily address the argument that the concept of covering the head is of non-indian or non "Vedic" (historically speaking) origin.

Advaita Das- “The lord is non-different from his śakti, so the śakti is also eternal. The Lord is non-different from his dress, so is his śakti non different from her dress. “

Anonymous bhakta - Another question: are you sure that Vilāpa Kusumāñjali describes a *saree* going over the head? Previously you established that gopīs do not tend to wear sarees, but rather wear a three-piece garment with a "top-cloth" separate from the "skirt.

Advaitadas: I asked the question to dr. Satya-nārāyana Dās, who replied: “The Sanskrit word for veil is ava-guṇṭhana (ghungat in Hindi or in Braja-bhāṣā comes from this). This word is found in old plays of Sanskrit such as of Kalidas. That means veil certainly existed but not like ghungat which you see in Vraj villages. You may search for avagunthana in old play of Kālidās, Magha, Bhavabhuti, Bāṇa Bhaṭṭa etc and i am sure u will find examples of veil.”

Advaitadas: I found the following evidence for the veil in the Goswāmīs books -

ākṛṣya mugdham avaguṇṭhanam uttamāṅgād

The sakhīs pulled the veil from Her head to comb her hair – Kṛṣṇāhnika Kaumudi [2.54]

avaguṇṭhana bhū-lekhau tathādho mukhatādayaḥ

“Covering the head with a veil is a sign of shyness” (Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu 2.4.113)

hari api parivṛtya tan nitamba
dyuti nihitekṣaṇa paṅkajo'vatasthe
vara-tanu-tatir apy atītya tad go-puram
avaguṇṭhanam īṣad asyati sma

As Śrī Rādhikā and Her girlfriends passed by through the towngate, their veils slightly slipped off their heads and Hari cast His lotuslike eyes on their effulgent buttocks. [Kṛṣṇa Bhavanamrita 5.45]

ālībhiḥ saha puropakānana
prānta vartma nihitāṅghri pallavā
hrī kṣapā kṣaya-vaśād avaguṇṭhanon-
muktam āsya kamalaṁ dadhe sphuṭam

When Śrī Rādhikā and Her friends placed their lotusfeet on the roads of the subforests of Yāvat, their lotuslike faces began to blossom. This made their night-like veils perish as they opened them, dispelling the darkness of their shame. [Kṛṣṇa Bhāvanāmṛta 8.41]

Adding a date to the Purāṇas according to composition would not be right. Regardless of the date of authorship, the contents are timeless. The fact that I translated the Goswāmī Granthas in the 1980s does not make them from the 1980s.

I received support from my friend Ananta Govinda who quoted verses from Caitanya Bhāgavat to prove the presence of the dhoti in śāstra –

Caitanya Bhāgavat Adi 6.64

keha bole,— "āmāra na rahe sāji dhuti "

Another said, "He always takes my flower basket and fresh dhoṭi."

Caitanya Bhāgavat Madhya 2.44

niṅḍaye vastra karo koriyā yatane ;
dhuṭi-vastra tuli' karo dena ta' āpane

He carefully wrung out the water from someone's wet cloth and handed someone else his dhoti.

Caitanya Bhāgavat Madhya 2.57

sāji bohe, dhuṭi bohe, lajjā nāhi kore'; 
sambhrame vaiṣṇava-gaṇa hāta āsi' dhare

He did not feel shy as He carried their flower baskets and dhotis. The Vaiṣṇavas, however, respectfully caught hold of His hands in order to dissuade Him.

Caitanya Bhāgavat CB Madhya 2.286

nānā māyā kori' tumi āmāre vañcila!;
sāji-dhuṭi-ādi kori' sakali bohila!

"You have deceived me through various illusions. You have even carried my flower basket and dhotis."

Ananta Govinda Das: “They say that it's because of local customs Mahāprabhu wore local clothes, right? But He is Bhagavan himself, and He is Nitya. Why he chose Bengal and not California then? It is said in śāstra that the Lord is coming in His eternal form and His dress and associates are not material - kṛṣṇa varṇaṁ tviṣākṛṣṇam sangopāṅgāstra pārṣadam: He is coming in His eternal form: so, how does His eternal form looks like then? “

Advaitadas: “They argue Kṛṣṇa could wear blue jeans and mobile phone. There was a riot around Banke Bihāri about this 6 years ago. In the 12th canto of the Bhagavat all clothes and ornaments of Kṛṣṇa symbolize something; the Kaustubha gem is all the jivas, f.i. How can you call this local and temporal custom then without being a complete māyāvādī?

Ananta Govinda Das: “The conclusion is that - DHOTI IS FULLY SPIRITUAL because Bhagavan Himself wears it. rāgānugā means following rāgātmikā: all nitya siddha rāgātmikās wore dhoṭī. Why should I challenge? It's so stupid."

Friday, March 16, 2012

Vaiṣṇava dress

This is my 2 cents about the ongoing discussion about whether Vaiṣṇava dress is spiritual or cultural (and can be compromised or even totally abandoned).
This discussion took place during Kartik of 2010 -

Purva-pakṣa -
You mention in your interesting blog about Sankīrtan that "dhoti is a sacred garment". I have my doubt about this statement and would like to present a few points for discussion if you don't mind:

1. The terms "dhoti" or "sari" are not Sanskrit words and not mentioned in scripture. We don't know exactly what Kṛṣṇa was wearing (even though I tend to believe that it resembles what we call dhoti)
2. There is no evidence that Lord Caitanya asked any of his followers to change their regular dress when they went out on harinama.
3. "Vaiṣṇava dress" as mentioned in Caitanya Caritāmṛta could just mean the simple garment the followers of Lord Caitanya used to wear as opposed to royal clothes.
I certainly agree that clothing affects our consciousness and has certain connotations if we use it like a uniform. It can uplift (or degrade) us. However, in Indian villages some people wear dhoti and sari without any religious sentiments. It is just village clothing for them. In certain places in India suit is considered a Christian dress. For me the main principle, if we choose to go on Harinam, is to attract people to Kṛṣṇa through beautiful singing, dancing (and possibly also dress). If they get bewildered by weird foreign clothing (which they may at best connect to India, but not to spirituality) we may not reach our goal. Just my two cents ...

Advaita Das -
1. Probably Vaiṣṇavas always wore dhoti and shari so they did not need to change cloth.
2. Haribhakti Vilāsa speaks of wearing white garments as opposed to red/orange. That certainly applies to dhoti not to pants.
3. Mahāprabhu is described as wearing tri-kaccha in Caitanya Bhāgavata, it means ' three-folded'. That certainly applies to dhoti. f.i trikaccha vasan (Caitanya Bhāgavat Adi 8.197)
4. Indian villages have a very pious regime, even if people do not practise any sādhana. Most Hindus are devotees in the heart. In contrast one never sees Muslims wear a dhoti. If it were purely cultural and regional, why South Asian Muslims do not wear dhoti?
5. A devotee would not dare watch peepshows on the street in dhoti, whereas he would be inclined to do so wearing pants, because not only the garment influences him, he would also look absurd wearing the dress of a priest while watching a peepshow.

Thanks for your reply. Since the words dhoti and sāri are not found in the Sanskrit dictionary, how would they appear in any Sankrit text (unless it is interpolated)? What we do find in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is dukūla-agrye, which just means cloth. Certainly Mahāprabhu and his devotees wore dhotis, as was the custom back then. We just don't know how exactly the Vrajabāsīs and Kṛṣṇa wrapped their clothes around their bodies 5000 years ago. The gopīs are described as wearing belts in the 10th canto which indicated they were not wearing sārīs, but some kind of skirts. I don't doubt that it is uplifting for one's consciousness to wear dhoti /sari in that spirit, but I still hold that there is nothing INTRINSICALLY spiritual to it.

Advaita Das – “There is nothing intrinsically spiritual about being a teetotaler either – it is just healthy to be so. Does it mean we should jeopardize our sādhana by getting loaded on drink and drugs then? It would make sādhana a lot more difficult, right? One can do sādhana in America but it is much better to do in Vraja. Similarly one can also do sādhana with baseball cap, T-shirt and Bermuda shorts but why would you make it more difficult upon yourself? dhuti and śārī are indeed not in the dictionary, but the Kṛṣṇa Bhāvanāmṛta 4.35 mentions the word śāṭikā [corrupted into 'shari' nowadays] - kanaka bindumati nava śāṭikā. Why would a belt not fit with a sharee, by the way?

Thanks Prabhuji, interesting and a beautiful description. Of course even from that we still don't know exactly how that dress looked like. It is obvious that Rādhā doesn't wear mini-skirt, but the opinion of some devotees that saris as they appear now are "Vaikuṇṭha dress" is still not substantiated by that description.

Advaita Das – “Subhadra devī dressed in gopi dress to appease her co-wife Draupadi. It was a skirt, blouse and a top as described in Vilāpa Kusumāñjali 22. Draupadi was probably dressed in a shari at that meeting, so yes it seems like sharis were Vaikuṇṭha dress and gopi dress is a skirt. In that you are right. I am short of evidence from Mahābhārat, where the pastime is described.”

Just recently I received this support from my friend Ananta Govinda –

Ananta govinda - Some devotees insist that there is no such a thing as Vaiṣṇava dress in śāstra.”

Advaitadas: “Haribhakti Vilāsa says that if you do not wear uttarīya (cador) you are naked. Wearing a chador is as purifying as wearing dhoti - 'nuttarīyaśca nagnas cāvastra eva ca - [Haribhakti Vilāsa, 4.148] – “Not wearing uttarīya [chador] is like being naked.”

Ananta govinda: Without Haribhakti Vilāsa I found refutation of this

Advaita Das: Did Mahāprabhu wear suit and tie, in a college office?

Ananta Govinda: The word vaiṣṇava-dress is in sastra: in Caitanya Caritāmṛta Madhya 14.5

sārvabhauma-upadeśe chādi' rāja-veśa
ekalā vaisnava-veśe karila praveśa

sārvabhauma — of Sārvabhauma Bhattācārya; upadeśe — under instructions; chādi' — giving up; rāja-veśa — the royal dress; ekalā — alone; vaisnava-veśe — in the dress of a Vaisnava; karila praveśa — entered.

“Following Sārvabhauma Bhattācārya's instructions, the King had given up his royal dress. He now entered the garden in the dress of a Vaisnava.”

Ananta Govinda: look here:  vaisnava-veśe . If they don't accept Haribhakti Vilāsa they should not accept Caitanya Caritāmṛta either: so, what is vaiṣṇava veśa, blue jeans and t-shirt? They say Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism is not about the clothes. But why then Jagadānanda Paṇḍit wanted to beat Sanātan Goswāmī because of the clothes point and nothing else? (see Caitanya Caritāmṛta Antya līlā, chapter 13)? Even without considering the color of the clothes, the point was about the clothes - and if it doesn't matter then why śāstra speaks about clothes with so many ślokas?”

Advaita Das – Clothes matter. A transvestite feels feminine when he cross-dresses, a woman with pants feels more masculine than a woman in a dress. And those postmodern devotees who preach ‘the substance vs. the form’ are invited to show me this philosophy or attitude anywhere in Vaiṣṇava-śāstra or history. There is nothing external in bhakti – sevā sādhaka rūpena.  Mahāprabhu instructs Sanātan Goswāmī in Caitanya Caritāmṛta (Madhya 22.156): bāhya antara ihār dui to sādhan - There are two types of sādhana - external and internal." “The substance vs the form” is actually sheer māyāvāda, thinking that something in bhakti sādhana is false. The bottom line is - it is very hard for western devotees to give up their western saṁskāra, even if they are in the top league and supposedly 'seniormost'."

Sunday, March 04, 2012


I wrote this blog some years ago, but never posted it yet, and since there is at present not much to say I post it now, after editing it somewhat -

Some ultra-intellectual devotee-bloggers take the political correctness wrought by conditioned souls in 20th-21st Century America as the standard of comparison and the timeless truths of shastra as the object of comparison, while it should, of course, be the other way around. To establish the source of truth, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmīpāda writes in his Tattva sandarbha (9):

tatra puruṣasya bhramādi-doṣa-catuṣṭaya-duṣṭatvāt sutarām alaukikācintya-svabhāva-vastu-sparśāyogyatvac ca tat-pratyakṣādiny api sa-doṣāni

"Human beings are bound to have four types of defects: They are subject to delusion, make mistakes, have a cheating propensity, and imperfect senses. Thus they are unable to understand the inconceivable spiritual reality, for their means of acquiring knowledge by direct perception, inference, and so forth prove inadequate."

tatas tāni na pramāṇanīty anādi-siddha-sarva-puruṣa-paramparāsu sarva-laukikālaukika-jñāna-nidānatvād aprākṛta-vacana-lakṣaṇo veda evāsmākam sarvatita-sarvāśraya-sarvācintyāścarya-svabhāvaṁ vastu vividiṣatam pramāṇam ||10||

"For us who are inquisitive, therefore, about that which is beyond all, yet the support of everything, which is most inconceivable and wondrous in nature, direct perception, inference and so on are not suitable means. For this purpose we accept the Vedas, whose words are transcendental, which is the source of all mundane and transcendental knowledge, and which have been passed down in humanity through beginningless chains of succession."

And in Śrīmad Bhāgavat 4.18.4-5 it is said -

tān ātiṣṭhati yaḥ samyag upāyān pūrva-darśitān
avaraḥ śraddhayopeta upeyān vindate'ñjasā
tān anādṛtya yo'vidvān arthān ārabhate svayam
tasya vyabhicaranty arthā ārabdhāś ca punaḥ punaḥ

"One who follows the principles and instructions enjoined by the great sages of the past can utilize these instructions for practical purposes. Such a person can very easily enjoy life and pleasures. A foolish person who manufactures his own ways and means and does not recognize the authority of the sages who lay down unimpeachable directions is simply unsuccessful again and again in his attempts."

And in the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad 3.2.3 -

nāyam ātma pravacanena labhyo
na medhayā na bahunā śrutena
yam evaiṣa vṛṇute tena labhyas
tasyaisa ātma vivṛṇute tanuṁ svam

"The Supreme Lord is not obtained by expert explanations, by vast intelligence, or even by much hearing. He is obtained only by one whom He Himself chooses To such a person He manifests His own form."

The abovementioned intellectuals reject śāstra’s authority by calling the above principles ‚fundamentalism‘, but fundamentalism is a concept that neither exists in Vedic philosophy nor in Vaiṣṇava philosophy or scripture. It is a concept made up by western intellectuals and newsagencies in 1979, when the clerics in Iran established a theocracy there. Of course, sense perception, inference etc. can contain truths but they should be rejected if they contradict the verdict of śāstra.