Anaṅga-mañjarī: An Historical and Theological Perspective

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

Rūpa Goswāmī introduces the world to Śrī Rādhā’s sister, Anaṅga-mañjarī, in his Rādhā-kṛṣṇa-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā (1550). There is no prior reference to this family insight in any other text, Gauḍīya or otherwise. He does so in the context of describing Rādhā’s older brother, Śrīdāma, Kṛṣṇa’s dearmost priya-sakhā:

Śrīdāma has a tasteful śyāma-colored, mind-stealing complexion and wears yellow garments along with jeweled necklaces. He is a splendid kiśora of sixteen years and the instigator of considerable playfulness. He is Kṛṣṇa’s dearest priya-sakhā. His father is Rāja Vṛṣabhānu, and his mother is the chaste Kīrtidā-devī. Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and Anaṅga-mañjarī are his two younger sisters.

Rādhā-kṛṣṇa-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā 2.37-39

Along with telling us her name, Śrī Rūpa divulges other significant information about Anaṅga—her temperament, complexion, and dress, as well as the name of her husband and the fact that she is dear to Lalitā- and Viśākhā-gopī.

Her complexion resembles the ketakī flower blooming in spring. She is charming, and her name, Anaṅga-mañjarī, befits her, for she resembles the flower bud of Cupid. Her dress is the color of the blue lotus. Her husband is the proud Durmada, the brother-in-law of her sister. She is dear to Lalitā-devī, and especially dear to Viśākhā.1

Rādhā-kṛṣṇa-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā 1.121–122

Śrī Rūpa lists Anaṅga as a vara-sakhī, which he describes thus:

Just as there are eight variṣṭha (most exalted) gopīs, similarly there are also eight vara (exalted) gopīs. The vara-gopīs are all twelve years young. Their names are Kalāvatī, Śubhāṅgadā, Hiraṇyāṅgī, Ratnalekhā, Śikhāvatī, Kandarpa-mañjarī, Phullakalikā, and Anaṅga- mañjarī.

Rādhā-kṛṣṇa-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā 97-98

Although two of these vara-sakhīs bear the name mañjarī—Anaṅga and Kandarpa—in Rādhā-kṛṣṇa-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā’s list of mañjarīs, their names do not appear.2 Thus, from Rūpa Goswāmī’s perspective, these two are mañjarīs in name but not in function. They function instead as vara-gopīs, who unlike mañjarīs are not adamantly opposed to personal romantic invitations from Kṛṣṇa. Mañjarī-bhāva is characterized as being dedicated exclusively to the bhāva of Rādhā and thus to uniting her with Kṛṣṇa rather than uniting with him oneself. Indeed, unwillingness to succumb to Kṛṣṇa’s efforts to seduce them is central to the underlying math of the mañjarīs’ sacred aesthetic rapture/rasa: it is more pleasing to Kṛṣṇa for one to serve and assist Rādhā in her romantic desires than it is for one to romanticize with Kṛṣṇa oneself, for no one can satisfy Kṛṣṇa in romantic love more than Rādhā can.3

Thus, although Anaṅga, like Rādhā’s mañjarīs, is also dedicated to the personal service of her older sister, unlike Rādhā’s mañjarīs, this is not at the cost of a romantic interlude with Kṛṣṇa should the opportunity arise, as it does. In his Muktā-carita, Raghunātha dāsa Goswāmī describes Kṛṣṇa’s invitation to Anaṅga and how it delights her, mentally accepting as she does Kṛṣṇa’s invitation “like a hymn of flowers decorating her ears, as she glanced at him in return,” even though the public setting of this invitation and the levity behind Kṛṣṇa’s words prevented her from following through on this particular occasion. That is to say, her reaction was not like that of a typical mañjarī.

The above references to Anaṅga-mañjarī together with Raghunātha dāsa Goswāmī’s epithet for Rādhā—anaṅga-mañjarī-jyeṣṭhā—among 107 other names for our Goddess constitute the entirety of what the Six Goswāmīs have written about her. But is there anything else that can be said about her? Later theologians think so, and some of them have said much more. However, the focus of this article is to examine the extent to which such theologizing enhances and adds to the Goswāmīs’ perspective and the extent to which any of it may contradict their insight. As we shall see, given the specifics of later theologians’ position on Anaṅga-mañjarī, we will need to revisit the Goswāmīs’ insight as to the nature of Kṛṣṇa’s older brother, Balarāma, which is central to this text’s musing on the circle of Kṛṣṇa’s friends. In order to do that, we must turn to Gaura līlā and the illustrious consort of Nityānanda-rāma, Śrī Jāhnāva-devī.

Jāhnāva and her sister, Vasudhā, married Nitāi in their youth. They are naturally identified with Balarāma’s eternal consorts Revatī and Vāruṇī, respectively. No one has suggested that Nitāi’s wives are incarnations of any of Balarāma’s Vraja gopīs, who, as we have seen in chapter 2 of the circumference of this book, are practically unknown. Indeed, Rūpa Goswāmī does not mention any of them in his Rādhā-kṛṣṇa-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā, a book intended to shed light on the Vraja līlā pārṣadas. The fact that he does not mention any of them individually by name or even as a group underscores his emphasis on viewing Balarāma in Vraja exclusively through the lens of fraternal love.

However, with the passing of Nitāi, which cast a prominent light on Jāhnāva, new theological conjectures arose as to her inner identity in Kṛṣṇa līlā. Arguably such thinking arose in conjunction with the fact that in the face of the Goswāmīs’ newly published works, Jāhnāva identified with the ideal of mañjarī-bhāva, which the Goswāmīs’ theology highlighted. Thus, Jāhnāva’s ideal did not match with the aiśvarya-bhāva of Revatī. What, then, is her Vraja līlā identity?

Jāhnāva took the long pilgrimage to Vraja at least twice if not three times. There at Rādhā-kuṇḍa, Gopīnātha, standing in the shade of one of Vraja’s wish-fulfilling trees, showed himself to her, and a temple was later established to commemorate her vision. However, in Jāhnāva’s mind, the deity of Rādhā standing next to Gopīnātha was too small. Thus, upon returning to Bengal, she had a larger deity of Rādhā carved and sent this deity to replace the smaller one. But rather than replacing the smaller deity altogether, the local priests designated her as Anaṅga, Rādhā’s younger sister. After all, artistically speaking, it was common to depict a younger sibling by making her smaller in size.4

During her final pilgrimage to Vraja, Jāhnāva passed on, and it was at this time that devotees began to feel they had an answer concerning Jāhnāva’s Vraja līlā identity. Jāhnāva was identified by some with Anaṅga-mañjarī. Indeed, sacred lore of the time asserted that upon passing, she entered into the smaller deity of Anaṅga.

Sometime after Jāhnāva’s passing, Kavi-karṇapūra wrote his Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā. Therein he identifies Jāhnāva with Revatī, with the caveat that some devotees consider her Anaṅga-mañjarī. In his book, Kavi-karṇapūra includes various opinions on the Vraja līlā identities of the Gaura līlā pārṣadas and makes no effort to sort out which opinion is correct. For Kavi-karṇapūra, either there is more than one correct answer at times or he merely leaves it to his readers to decide which opinion to embrace. But whose opinion was it that Jāhnāva is Anaṅga-mañjarī?

There is reason to believe that rather than by the devotees of Vraja, Jāhnāva’s identification with Anaṅga was first promoted by her adopted son and disciple, Rāmāi Ṭhākura/Rāmacandra Goswāmī, who accompanied her to Vraja. Rāmāi Ṭhākura and Vīracandra, the son of Nityānanda and Vasudhā, both became disciples of Jāhnāva at a young age. Of the two, Vīracandra Goswāmī is the most celebrated, but he and Rāmāi Ṭhākura appear to have differed theologically. However, Rāmāi Ṭhākura was no doubt an influential devotee. To attribute the insight into Jāhnāva’s Vraja līlā identification with Anaṅga-mañjarī to Rāmāi is to compliment him, for this insight, despite its peculiarity, was entertained as a distinct possibility by Kavi-karṇapūra, and over time it has been for the most part accepted uncritically.

But let us critically examine this theological perspective. Perhaps what stands out most is the idea that since Jāhnāva is Nityānanda-rāma’s principle consort, if in Vraja she is Anaṅga-mañjarī, then Anaṅga of Vraja is also Balarāma’s principle śakti. However, in the drama of Vraja līlā there is no hint of this. And from the Gauḍīya perspective, Balarāma’s Vraja śaktis are clearly a section of nameless gopīs associated with the Nāga community. And turning to the Ahivasi Gaur brāhmaṇas of the Daujī Mandira in Baldeo, we find that Revatī has been enshrined as Rāma’s principle consort, with no mention of Anaṅga. Furthermore, from the Gauḍīya perspective of Rūpa Goswāmī, who gave Anaṅga-mañjarī to the world, Anaṅga is a vara-gopī that is romantically involved with Balarāma’s younger brother, and she has no such relationship with Balarāma himself. And how could Rūpa Goswāmī have neglected to tell us this significant fact concerning Anaṅga in his book dedicated to revealing such details about the players in the Vraja līlā drama? Thus, the idea that she is Nityānanda-rāma’s principle consort but has no such relationship with him in Vraja stands out. How can she be Balarāma’s principle consort and have no mādhurya relationship with him, while having such a relationship with Kṛṣṇa? Furthermore, historical accounts of Jāhnāva’s pilgrimages to Vraja in texts such as Bhakti-ratnākara describe her visiting the haunts of Balarāma’s pastimes with intense longing for him, a longing not found in Anaṅga-mañjarī. Thus, these theological concerns beg to be resolved, and this it appears is what Rāmāi Ṭhākura set out to do in support of his initial insight.


1 Here it is implied that she is Rādhā’s younger sister, being married to the younger brother of Rādhā’s husband. “Anaṅga” is another name for Cupid/Kāmadeva, who is said to be invisible or without limbs—anaṅga. Cupid approached Śiva while the latter was in meditation, and upon having his meditation broken, he burned Cupid up with his angry glance. Thus Cupid became limbless, or invisible, and that much more formidable.

2 Some later manuscripts of this text do include Anaṅga’s name in Rūpa’s list of mañjarīs, but as this article implies going forward, its inclusion in some manuscripts is likely at the hand of others. And the absence of Kandarpa-mañjarī’s name in Śrī Rūpa’s list of mañjarīs in any edition of the text serves as further evidence that some gopīs may be mañjarīs in name only. Thus, to describe Anaṅga-mañjarī as such is not unprecedented. That she is a mañjarī in name only is also the position taken by the late Ananta dāsa Paṇḍita of Rādhā-kuṇḍa. However, Dhyānacandra Goswāmī lists her as a mañjarī in his Gaura-govindārcana-smaraṇa-paddhati. He also describes her as a student of Viśākhā and the life force of Rādhā.

3 However, it is arguably implied by Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura in his Kṛṣṇa-bhāvanāmṛta that against her will, a mañjarī may find Kṛṣṇa’s advance unavoidable on a rare occasion. See Kṛṣṇa-bhāvanāmṛta 13.34.

4 Even today artisans will typically make the deity of Kṛṣṇa smaller than Balarāma when the two are cast together as a way of conveying the fact that Kṛṣṇa is Rāma’s younger brother.

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

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6 Responses to Anaṅga-mañjarī: An Historical and Theological Perspective

  1. Is Chandravali not also Radha’s sister?

  2. Oh yeah! This esoteric part was missing so that it would be more complete to understand the Goura lila as sustenance for those who already live it like this. Infinite thanks Srila Tripurari Maharaj for so much revelation on the eve of more, flowing and weaving naturally through the ether? … Jaaay Guru Tattva Ki! =)

  3. Maharaja, you mention
    Please could you elucidate what that was about?
    And could you possibly provide an answer about theological differences between major Gaudiya personalities. As I believe there are quite a few differences, such as those between the Vaishnavas of Sri Khanda headed by Narahari Sarkar and those of Navadwipa headed by Vrnidavan das Thakur. The followers of Advaita and Nityananda and also the emphasis on manjari bhava by Jhanavi and Sakha bhava of Nityananda etc.
    Looking forward to your book on the Sakhas.
    Pranams Dandavats
    Mathura das

  4. This quote didn’t seem to appear in my comment.
    “Rāmāi Ṭhākura and Vīracandra, the son of Nityānanda and Vasudhā, both became disciples of Jāhnāva at a young age. Of the two, Vīracandra Goswāmī is the most celebrated, but he and Rāmāi Ṭhākura appear to have differed theologically”

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