Balarāma Tattva

By Swami Sri Bhaktivedanta Tripurari, excerpted from his forthcoming book, Circle of Friends as part of a series of articles concerning Balarāma Tattva.

In Rūpa Goswāmī’s Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta, Balarāma is categorized as a vaibhava-prakāśa form of Kṛṣṇa. The two-armed, flute-bearing cowherd Gopāla Kṛṣṇa is svayaṁ-rūpa, the original form of the Godhead, in whom all other manifestations of himself are contained. For the sake of his līlā, sometimes svayaṁ-rūpa Kṛṣṇa expands into replica forms of himself, such as when picnicking with his friends along the banks of the Yamunā. At that time, Kṛṣṇa expanded into multiple replica forms of himself such that each cowherd thought that Kṛṣṇa was sitting across from him and placing food in his mouth alone. This type of expansion of svayaṁ-rūpa Kṛṣṇa, in which each form manifested is exactly the same as his svayaṁ-rūpa in both physicality and psychology, is termed prābhava-prakāśa. However, when svayaṁ-rūpa Kṛṣṇa expands himself for līlās that require different emotional content, such expansions are termed vaibhava-prakāśa, even while such forms are physically the same as his svayaṁ-rūpa. In the Vraja līlā, only these two kinds of expansions are required: forms of Kṛṣṇa with the same emotional makeup and forms with differing emotional makeup. While the prābhava-prakāśa forms are many—as many as there are gopas and gopīs for Kṛṣṇa to stand between—there is only one vaibhava-prakāśa in Vraja—Balarāmajī.

Following Śrī Rūpa’s lead in Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Goswāmī explains that the vaibhava-prakāśa forms of Kṛṣṇa differ from svayaṁ-rūpa Kṛṣṇa in emotional content.4 Śrī Kṛṣṇadāsa goes on to say that other than the difference in the their complexions, the two, Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma, are equal.5 In Hari-vaṁśa Purāṇa, Kṛṣṇa speaks to Balarāma, stressing the brothers’ oneness in tattva:

That which I am, you are also he. That which is he is eternally me. We have become two but we are certainly one in two bodies, a pair endowed with great power.6

The emphasis here is on the divinity of Balarāma, as well as on Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma as the combined object of love for those who idealize sakhya-rati. This is an important tattva perspective: Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma are both the Godhead. They appear in the world together, not separately. However, despite this oneness of Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma in tattva, there is a difference between the two, a difference in both complexion and emotion—bhāva.

Color and emotion are related. Thus, the difference in their complexions also speaks of their emotional difference from one another. Kṛṣṇa’s is śyāma (indigo), and in Indian aesthetic theory, this color corresponds with the rasa over which he presides, śṛṅgāra, or mādhurya-rasa.7 Balarāma’s is pāṇḍura (whitish) like that of the moon or a crystal, and this is the color assigned to the comedic rasahāsya—over which Balarāma presides and which among the rasas is the best friend of sakhya-rasa.8 Indeed, in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam’s tenth canto, fifteenth chapter—the height of sakhya-rasa in the Bhāgavatam—we find that Kṛṣṇa’s lengthy eulogy of Balarāma amid their friends is spoken in the rapture of hāsya-rasa.

Both the crystal and the moon are agents of reflection. The crystal expresses the color of that which is placed beside it, and the moon reflects the light of the sun. These two objects from the natural world, which are identified with Balarāma’s complexion, also tell us something about his emotional makeup. Kṛṣṇa is sevya—served—Bhagavān, and Balarāma is sevaka—servitor—Bhagavān. Balarāma causes us to reflect back upon Kṛṣṇa, the object of his sevā, from whom Rāma draws his light and life in ways that no other manifestation of the Godhead does.

In tattva, Balarāma is God himself, but emotionally he experiences himself primarily as Kṛṣṇa’s friend.9 His sakhya-rati is bundled together with dāsya– and vātsalya-rati.10 That is, within the context of his sakhya-rati, Balarāma sometimes expresses himself in service to Kṛṣṇa and at other times acts as Kṛṣṇa’s well-wisher. In other words, Balarāma’s sakhya-rati mediates between two otherwise incompatible emotions, servile and paternal love. In Vraja his sakhya predominates, although examples of his dāsya and vātsalya are not lacking.11 Outside of Vraja in Mathurā and Dvārakā, his dāsya is more dominant,12 and outside of Kṛṣṇa līlā itself, his dāsya is that much more prominent in his sevā rendered to countless avatāras of the Godhead.


4 Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.20.171

5 Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.20.174

6 Hari-vaṁśa Purāṇa 2.14.48

7 Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja refers to śṛṅgāra-rasa (romantic love) by the term mādhurya. He seems to follow the lead of the Goswāmīs in this but has justified their use of the term by stating that it is appropriate because of śṛṅgāra-rasa’s sweetness (mādhurya means “sweetness”). However, mādhurya is also employed to refer to the intimacy of humanlike love we find in Vraja overall, as opposed to aiśvarya-prema, or majestic, reverential love for Kṛṣṇa’s form of Nārāyaṇa, which is found in Vaikuṇṭha.

8 While one might think that Balarāma presides over sakhya-rasa itself, this honor belongs to Vāmana/Upendra, the Viṣṇu avatāra and friend of Indra. Interestingly, when Indra apologized to Kṛṣṇa for the disturbance he caused in the Govardhana līlā, he anointed Kṛṣṇa as the God of the gods, giving him the names Govinda and Upendra.

9 In sakhya-rasa he also experiences himself as the object of his friends’ love along with Kṛṣṇa. He is also the object of love for devotees in dāsya-, vātsalya-, and mādhurya-rasas. But he is not the object of romantic love for Kṛṣṇa’s gopīs.

10 Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 3.4.81. This bundling of rasas is termed saṅkula-rati, the permanent combining of rasas in which one rasa predominates. Balarāma’s saṅkula-rati is sakhya-rasa bundled together with lesser influences of vātsalya and dāsya. This teaching of Rūpa Goswāmī will be discussed in greater detail in chapters 5 and 6 of this circumference of the text.

11 See Caitanya-caritāmṛta 1.5.136–141.

12 In Prīti-sandarbha 82, Jīva Goswāmī explains that in Vraja, Rāma’s dāsya and vātsalya are situated within his sakhya, whereas in Dvārakā his sakhya and vātsalya are situated within his dāsya.

Additional Articles in this Series

Balarāma, The Birth of Sakhya-bhava

Balarāma Tattva

Rāma Shines Only in Connection With Kṛṣṇa

Balarāma’s Romantic Life

Balarāma and Ananga-mañjarī

Anaṅga-mañjarī: A Historical and Theological Perspective

Rāmāi Ṭhākura and Anaṅga-mañjarī-sampuṭikā

Balarāma Slays a False Friend

About the Author

3 Responses to Balarāma Tattva

  1. Kishore Krishna Das

    Jaya Guru Maharaja! So much beauty is in these articles – it is exciting to read them in succession to get a feel for the poetic rhythm of the book! And it is quite fitting that this book is coming to us through a glimpse of Balaram’s mercy first… Krsna must be near!

    Concerning the prominence of Balarama’s different bhavas in different lilas in connection to the form he takes, would you say that he takes the form of a younger brother in Rama lila as Lakshman because his dasya is more prominent there? And that taking a non human form as Ananta Sesa signifies a bigger prominence of dasya? And that even though he is the elder brother in Krsna lila, Jiva Goswami often refers to him and krsna as twins to glorify and declare his prominence of sakhya rasa over vatsalya?

  2. Jaya Maharaja,

    Excellent! This is great material for Balarama’s App Day. Very well written and presented. Thanks so much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top ↑