Gaura-Visnupriya

Q & A with Swami Tripurari

Q. It seems that later followers of Jesus, principally those who had never personally met him, deified him in a way that was not done during his lifetime and was not explicitly taught by him. Has the same thing happened with Caitanya Mahaprabhu? In Gaudiya Vaisnavism the Caitanya-caritamrta by Krsnadasa Kaviraja is the lens through which Mahaprabhu is viewed, but do all those mentioned in the book share its vision? Does Jiva Goswami speak about Mahaprabhu’s ontological status in the same way as Krsnadasa Kaviraja?

A. It is abundantly clear from the writing of the associates of Sri Caitanya that Krsnadasa Kaviraja, although coming a generation later, has represented not his own ideas regarding the divinity of Sri Caitanya but those of the immediate disciples of Sri Caitanya. Raghunatha dasa Goswami, who lived for many years in the personal association of Sri Caitanya writes in his Saci-sutastakam, “Will Lord Hari, who upon seeing his own incomparable sweetness in a mirror in Vraja and desiring to become like his dearest friend Radha manifested an incomparable golden form and took birth in Bengal as the son of Saci, again walk on the pathway of my eyes?” In this prayer Raghunatha dasa Goswami identifies the son of Saci, Sri Caitanya, with Krishna (Hari) and furthermore with the sentiment and complexion of Radha. Dasa Goswami’s siksa guru, Svarupa Damodara, who was the personal secretary of Sri Caitanya in Puri, also wrote about Sri Caitanya’s divinity and identification with Radha’s bhava, and a significant verse of his has been included in Sri Krsnadasa’s text as one among four verses through which Sri Krsnadasa seeks to establish the theology of Gaudiya Vaisnavism with regard to Sri Caitanya’s divinity and devotion in the ecstasy of Radha.

In this verse Sri Svarupa writes, “Radha and Krsna’s love is a transformation of hladini-sakti. On earth, the one, Krishna, has become two, Radha and Krishna, eternally. Then, as Gaurasundara, these two formed a dynamic unity. Pranam to that Krishna endowed with Radha’s countenance and personality.” It is principally from the notes of these two, Svarupa Damodara and Raghunatha dasa Goswami, that Sri Krsnadasa has developed his treatise. It is also clear that his Sri Caitanya-caritamrta draws heavily on the earlier works of Rupa, Sanatana, and Sri Jiva Goswamis. Texts such as Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Laghu-bhagavatamrta, Hari-bhakti-vilasa, Sat-sandarbha, and the Vaishnava-tosani Bhagavata commentary are well represented in his work. Regarding Sri Jiva Goswami’s opinion, we find this in his Sat-sandarbha, perhaps the most important text in terms of Gaudiya siddhanta and the tradition’s understanding of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, so dear to Sri Caitanya. Jiva Goswami begins this sixfold treatise with a citation from the Srimad-Bhagavatam that speaks of Sri Caitanya’s divinity:

“In Kali-yuga, those who possess very fine theistic intelligence worship Sri Krishna who has appeared in disguise as Sri Krishna Caitanya…”

Sri Jiva’s understanding of this verse is derived from Sri Sanatana Goswami’s Vaishnava-tosani. Following his citation of this verse is a well-known verse composed by Sri Jiva himself, a verse intended to explain the implication of the Bhagavata verse first explained by Sanatana Goswami with regard to the divinity of Sri Caitanya. Such explanations, both those of Sanatana Goswami and the corroborating explanation of Sri Jiva appear more than once in Sri Krsnadasa’s treatise.

Finally, regarding the authority of Caitanya-caritamrta, Srila Sridhara Deva Goswami emphatically has this to say:

“The Caitanya-caritamrta, the gift of Kaviraja Goswami, is the highest wealth of our sampradaya. With great authenticity we can rely on Caitanya-caritamrta on every point. Every part of Caitanya-caritamrta represents Mahaprabhu completely, because the source is Rupa-Sanatana and Raghunatha. They all came into direct contact with Mahaprabhu and were inspired by him. He empowered Rupa Goswami to reveal, in a scientific and exhaustive way, the sastras of divine love—the love of Vrindavana. Mahaprabhu said to Svarupa Damodara, ‘I have given my all to him–you also grace him. He (Sri Rupa Goswami) is the fittest person to deal with this science of divine love. You can put full confidence in him.’

“First was Rupa Goswami and then there was Raghunatha dasa Goswami, who also had direct contact with Mahaprabhu. Kaviraja Goswami was a disciple of Raghunatha dasa Goswami and he came in close association with Rupa-Sanatana and got their blessings. So what Kaviraja Goswami has given is unparalleled. Our Guru Maharaja (Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura) wrote in a letter that every part of Caitanya-caritamrta can be taken as fully bona fide, both from the historical and ontological point of view.” (Encounters with Divinity)

Thus it is the insights of the direct disciples of Sri Caitanya that are represented in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta and these insights remain the heart and soul of Gaudiya Vaishnavism today.

Q. It is said that the position of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in his hometown of Nadiya/Navadvipa is ontologically like that of Krishna in Vrindavana. However, Krishna in Vrindavana was not married, so what is the position of Mahaprabhu’s wife, Srimati Visnupriya devi?

A. Gaudiya Vaishnavism teaches that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (Gaura) is Krishna and that Nadiya is nondifferent from Vrindavana. They are nondifferent in that they are constituted of the same bhava, albeit expressed differently. This Radha-bhava cannot be found in any other abode of Bhagavan.

In Vrindavana, Krishna is the perfect object of love, and in the furthest reach of Nadiya he demonstrates how to worship perfectly in the mood of Sri Radha. Gaura is the same Krishna of Vrindavana, however, the highest understanding of Gaura tattva reveals him to be in the mood of Radha, having accepted her position as the abode of love. At the same time, in Nadiya Gaura is married to Visnupriya, who worships him and is attended to by her servant associates just as Satyabhama is attended to in Dvaraka. Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika informs us, sri-sanatana-misro’yam pura satrajito nrpah, visnupriya jagan-mata yat-kanya bhu-svarupini: “He who was King Satrajit in Krishna lila was Sanatana Mishra in Caitanya lila. The mother of the universe, the incarnation of the Lord’s bhu-sakti, is his daughter Vishnupriya.”

In this light, Gaura-Visnupriya are worshipped in dasya-bhava. When Gaura is worshipped along with Visnupriya, his search for his own self in the mood of Radhika is subdued, whereas in the worship of Gaura-Gadadhara it is out in the open. Nonetheless, when those who worship Gaura-Visnupriya are blessed through this worship, they may follow Gaura’s Vraja bhava as it manifests in Gaura lila and enter the inner life of Gaura-Gadadhara and the Vraja mandala along with them in forms suitable for seva in Krishna lila.

However, when Gaura enters Krishna lila, Visnupriya does not transform into Radha. The reason for this is that she is Radha’s expansion and not svayam-sakti Radha herself, while Radha herself is present in Gaura lila as Gadadhara. Visnupriya worships Gaura’s internal experience, his love for Radha, with respect and some distance. She does not, for example, enter the kirtana at the house of Srivasa Thakura where Gaura tastes Vraja bhava in the company of Gadadhara. In Caitanya lila, Gaura has stolen Radha’s bhava, and thus Gadadhara follows him like his shadow, tendering to Gaura’s necessity as he tries to make sense of his maddening experience.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura first installed the Deities of Gaura-Visnupriya at the birthplace (yoga-pitha) of Caitanya Mahaprabhu in Mayapura. In the vision of the Thakura, there are two sides to Gaura lila, vaidhi-bhakti offered to Gaura-Visnupriya and raganuga-bhakti, for which the corresponding Deity is Gaura-Gadadhara. It should also be noted that although Gaura is Krishna and Gadadhara is Radha, the two do not externally relate to one another as Radha and Krishna do in their Vraja lila. Gadadhara sees Gaura internally as Krishna—Krishna trying to experience the love of Radha that only Gadadhara knows. Thus Gadadhara is there to assist his object of love in an appropriate, corresponding form.

However, those interested in the raga-marga as taught by Sriman Mahaprabhu should not neglect the worship of Visnupriya. In his Sajjana-tosani, Thakura Bhaktivinoda writes, “If one gives up the worship of Visnupriya, one cannot claim to be a devotee of the Lord.” Vishnupriya Devi is the personification of transcendental knowledge, divya Saraswati. Devotees worship her on her appearance day on the sukla pancami of the month of Magh. On the same day materialistic persons desiring material knowledge worship her partial manifestation, the goddess of learning Saraswati.

In his Jaiva Dharma Thakura Bhaktivinoda writes:

“Know for certain that Sri Nimai is directly the son of Maharaja Nanda. Do not consider him separate from Krishna. Do not think that because He incarnated in Navadvipa and exhibited separate pastimes to demonstrate the process of bhajana that he is therefore Navadvipa nagara, or the paramour of Navadvipa. If you think in that way you will ruin your bhajana…. Sri Visnupriya is the Lord’s combined energies of hladhini and samvit. In other words, she is the personification of devotional service (bhakti-devi). She appeared during the advent of Sri Gaura to assist him in preaching the holy names of the Lord. Just as Sri Navadvipa, which consists of nine islands, is the personification of the nine types of devotional service, similarly, Srimati Visnupriya is also the personification of the nine types of devotional service.”


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19 Responses to Gaura-Visnupriya

  1. Swami BV Padmanabha

    Thanks for the nice article.
    A topic never to dismiss, in our attempt to fully catch Gaudiya Vaishnava siddhanta & onthology, and for having a clear picture of the specific roles of the Lord and His saktis in these most important lilas of Vraja & Nadiya.

    Apart from the article in itself, I would like to point (if maybe you do not know) that the picture of Srimati Vishnupriya that you have chosen for the article, has been made by Gadadhara-Pran das, a quite well-known preacher of one of the many sahajiya lines of nowadays, so in my humble opinion, “rasikally” speaking it would be more becoming to select some bonafide illustration of such an exalted personality in our lineage.

    Greetings to all there,

    Gaura Haribol!!!

    Swami BV Padmanabha

    • I am not sure how this illustration would be considered unbonafide even if it comes from a questionable source.

  2. Swami BV Padmanabha

    Well, maybe this can be considered a relative topic, in the sense that an uttama/saragrahi vaishnava may take only the essence out of it, but for the general public there are other recommendations for keeping the proper conceptions well situated.

    My main criteria for making such a statement is that the consciousness of the person behind it (the work of art or whatever), naturally makes some impact in the work itself and in the audience (the general public), maybe ina subtle and almost imperceptible way, but the influence is there.
    Unless we are in spiritual platforms like Krsna das babaji, who went to make kirtan with sahajiyas and remain unaffected, I think the sadhakas in general should pay certain attention to these details. 🙂

    As for prasadam, chanting, and actually every single activity in life (Krsna Conscioussness), I think the most important thing is the attitude and inner consideraton behind it, so according to our siddhanta, this type of art, should be ideally avoided.

    Gaura Haribol!

    Swami BV Padmanabha

    • The artwork as it stands though is siddhantic and that is the conception that one will imbibe looking at it, even if as in this case one makes the point to draw attention to the artist’s affiliations, etc.

      In my humble opinion, this consideration is quite different than your examples of going to a “sahajiya” kirtana or honoring prasada cooked by those with less than an ideal conception.

      • Well, I have to admit I like the picture very much. Her sorrow is hearbreaking…
        But I wonder about one thing that seemes to be in conflict with what I would suppose the Indian widow lookes like… Why is Vishnupriya wearing fancy jewellery… She got Mahaprabhu`s shoes after his accepting of sannyasa when he came back to Navadvip. So she was already considered a widow and as such would never dress herself in such way.

        • You make a good point here Braja. Widows wear white and shave their heads. As you commented, they wear no jewelry. You are correct in stating that the fact that she is holding Mahaprabhu’s shoes indicates that he has already taken sannyasa, leaving her as a widow.

  3. Perhaps Maharaj means that just as we don’t get the full benefit from hearing sahajiyas chant the name of Krishna, we also don’t get it from having darshan of their art work.

    But what do I know?

  4. An unbonafide artwork? Never heard Gaudiya sectarianism taken to that level.

  5. I guess now it would be strange to change the picture since new readers would think that we were talking about the new one 😆

    • Just to add my two cents, I took the depiction of some opulence as indicating divinity, that she is not an ordinary widow.

      I still think overall though that the mood and presentation is acceptable.

      • But she has been described as living a life of intense austerity in Mahaprabhu’s absence—eating only as much rice as she gathered from counting her rounds with grains of rice, etc. Widows in Vrindavana follow her example and shave their heads, put on white and take off their jewelry. She is their role model. And in those days a woman would not wear jewelry if her husband was away on business. She is indeed not an ordinary widow, but the way in which she demonstrates this is through the measure of her renunciation resulting from the fever of her separation, not by wearing jewelry.

        • I am aware of Vishnupriya’s austerity and I agree with what you have written.

          I guess I was just taking into some consideration how one would represent all that she is in the artwork.

  6. I also appreciate the art piece. I was singing the glories of Gaurahari all morning, after reading this and listening to Krsnadas Babaji recordings.

    Art does not only serve the purpose of expressing objective reality, but is by its very nature an expression of subjective reality. This piece –in my opinion– expresses the despair and potency of this wonderful divinity. However, as the depiction of divinity, the artist has decorated her in her magnificence with jewels and make-up. This is not unlike our deference to Mahaprabhu prior to his taking sanyasa. We decorate him extravagantly, even more so than he is ever described as being decorated. It is an expression of our love, respect, and veneration.

    At least they depicted her waistline to suggest her austerity in eating.

    • While in mundane art everything is allowed nowadays, it never was the case in sacral art, regardless of it`s tradition. At least that is how I percieve it, being not an artist myself. Although you are right in saying that art is not literal most of the time, still religious art speaks to us through symbols. If you look at traditional Hindu pictures of gods, godesses, Vishnu and so on, they are always portraited in a certain way and it is easy to recognize who is who. The same you will find in christian art- you will have no doubt to recognize God the Father or virgin Mary for instance.
      And now- if you knew nothing about the author`s intention would you recognize Vishnupriya in this picture? In my opinion feeling of the moment is spoiled when she wears all the atributes of happy married woman

  7. I always thought it was interesting to note how in the CC it is described just prior to Mahaprabhu leaving and taking sannyasa he paid given some attention to Visnupriya more than he ever had and dressed her in fine ornaments.

  8. Not getting into the technical merits or demerits of this particular piece, the fact is Gadadhar Pran’s understanding and broadcasting of Gauralila, much like his art, is basically all his own, with nearly no connection to any particular tradition or any one particular master.

  9. As many here I had no idea who this art work belonged to so I looked at it as a very unusual representation because it appeared modern. I was struck by the pained expression in her eyes and the dark clods behind her. I think that the mood is well represented in the painting. If I did not know the title of the article I would have thought that she was some village girl pinning after her lost cowherd boy.
    Having heard that the painting comes from our arch enemies, sahajiyas, I do feel compelled not to look at it for the fear that I will be compromised. Now, that I know who the painting belongs it has been spoiled for me. At my last timid and somewhat repulsed gaze I could not help but notice that, indeed, she is wearing white, albeit with a red stripe that in itself spoils her purity.
    All that said, and reading the article and ensuing comments I was also impressed how distracted from the article comments seem to be. Far from it that we appear to judge the book by its cover, but we are definitely distracted by it. I do not really understand the ontological realities of Mahaprabhu and his amorous and paramours (if any) dealings in this world, nor would I pretend to know the sidhanta and to actually understand the real essence of the article. What I seem to understand from this sweet article, despite my scriptural ingenuity, is that all the lillas are about LOVE: different realities play different roles but do so moved by love or out of desire to express it in ways that are most suitable for their desired relationship to the Lord. I was reading in the Bhagavatam that the Lord lets the jivas express their independence and move away from Him out of his causeless mercy. I can’t even imagine what kind of mercy is expressed to those who truly love Him or approach Him lovingly. Although Visnupriya loves Mahaprabhu limitlessly she seems to accept the “limits” imposed on her love by standing outside of the kirtan Srivasa Thakura, but she does so out of love facilitating Mahaprabhu’s tasting Vraja-bhava. How loving and how awesome!
    Jaya Laksmi-Visnupriya!

  10. In my opinion archenemies are our own anarthas only. Art can serve as udipanas in remembering the characteristics and the qualities of the Divine. Krishna Das Babaji is said to have gone to hear the kirtan of the sahajiyas because, in his words, “I like their tunes“. If a thing serves our purpose better than another, that thing takes front seat on the ride. Its only natural.

  11. In a certain sense, it seems that there is neither an iconography of divine origin nor a standardization of the religious art in the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition. Therefore, I agree that there should be, as far as possible, an accurate correlation between the literary record and the pictorial representation. That will foster the authentic sacred art and its theological reading. For now, perhaps we should accept that there is no official iconography of the deep theology condensed into śrīmatī viṣṇupriyā tadrupa navadhā bhaktya svarūpa.

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