Balarāma, The Birth of Sakhya-bhava

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

The elderly mystic Paurṇamāsī, wrapped in saffron cloth1 and effulgent as the full moon after whom she is named, arrived in Vraja accompanied by the farcical brāhmaṇa boy Madhumaṅgala, who was posing as the student of Nārada.2 This student, like his elderly female companion, never ages. Is he not the original brāhmaṇa that Nārada is but an approximation of? But let us not wander too far adrift from the topic at hand.

The timing of their arrival coincided with the pregnancy of Yaśodā, an event that the entire cowherd community longed for in such measure that they became consumed by their laulyam—a longing like that experienced in the long dark night of the soul’s separation from its source. Paurṇamāsī ended this darkness with a mystic insight that she readily shared with the cowherds: the male child of Nanda and Yaśodā they longed for—an heir to the kingdom of the cowherds—was already within Yaśodā’s womb!

At this time, an auspicious childbearing lady arrived stealthily on a black mare. Like a cow of plenty, she was named after the asterism Rohiṇī, which is depicted as a reddish (aruṇa) cow that brings tidings of a plentiful harvest.3 This second mother, bearing he who would be the very best friend of Yaśodā’s own issue, met in bliss with Yaśodā. The camaraderie of the ladies would be excelled only by their sons’ fraternal feelings for one another.

Rohiṇī’s issue appeared on the full moon of the Śrāvaṇa monsoon season, eight days before the birth of Yaśomatī’s Nandana. What can be said about his appearance, when words fail even in capturing the fullness of ordinary events? Although words fail to do justice, we are not rendered silent. He himself was from far beyond meditative silence, about which one cannot say enough. Crystal-like in complexion, like the sun’s light reflected in the full moon, this boy was born to give joy to the son of Yaśodā, to reflect his light and make it approachable, just as the guru does in relation to God.

Perhaps the most astounding thing about his birth was the fact that despite his beauty and other auspicious qualities, he was for all intents and purposes unconscious of the world around him. Only when Yaśodā took him on her lap and he could feel his brother within her womb would he come to life, and only after her son, Kṛṣṇa, was born did this peculiarity subside. His name is Rāma—Balarāma—and he is Kṛṣṇa’s best friend and older brother. Although he is sakhya-rasa personified, he is viṣṇu-tattva, not śakti-tattva. The two, Rāma and Kṛṣṇa, are respectively sevaka- and sevya-bhagavān.

Balarāma’s beauty knows no bounds. His feet are soft like lotuses, the hands of his long, strong arms reach his knees, his broad chest is garlanded with a guñjā-mālā, and his dark hair is tied in a topknot circled with a bounty of forest flowers. His complexion is clear and white like reflective moonlight.

He is Bhagavān of a friendly frame of mind: he sometimes serves, while at other times he is concerned with how his younger brother behaves. Sages call him Baladeva. Mighty, witty, wise, and well dressed in midnight blue, he wears a tilaka made of musk, dark in hue. His single earring kisses his cheek, and a lotus circled by bees decorates his ear. O Balarāma of voice deep in tone, when will I hear your call to serve—the sound of your buffalo horn?


1 In Gopāla-campū, Jīva Goswāmī dresses Paurṇamāsī in saffron despite the fact that she is named after the full moon and the fact that Rūpa Goswāmī drapes her in white in Rādhā-kṛṣṇa-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā.

2 Gopāla-campū 2.36.42 states, “Madhumaṅgala is Nārada’s counter image with a joking nature.” In Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.14.229, we also find Śrīvāsa in the mood of Nārada, acting like Madhumaṅgala. Just as svayam bhagavān manifests expansions of himself for līlās outside of Vraja, so too do his associates, such as Madhumaṅgala in the form of Nārada. In līlā and bhāva, Madhumaṅgala is the disciple of Nārada, while from the tattva perspective he is the source of Nārada.

3 Aruṇa—reddish brown/rust—is the color of sakhya-rati. The black mare mentioned in the previous sentence conceals Rohiṇī’s nighttime escape from Mathurā to Vraja.

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

14 Responses to Balarāma, The Birth of Sakhya-bhava

  1. Ramaniya de Jonge

    Thank you for some new information on Lord Balarama and Madhumangal.

  2. Dandavats Guru Maharaja,

    Sri Balaramaji ki jaya!

    When you say “despite the fact that she is named after the full moon”, is it because saffron is sun-like?

  3. What was the garland like- “Gunja” as in Gunja-mala (that Lord Baladeva was wearing?)
    Also It was beautiful to think that Balarama was hardly in conciousness in the world unless he touched his baby brother in the womb and stayed like that until he was born. I didnt know that, and also it solidifies that Balarama reflects the joy and light of his younger brother, so thank you Maharaj.
    Yours with Pranams,

    • The gunja bead comes from Abrus precatorius, commonly known as jequirity bean or rosary pea. The bead is either all white of more typically red, white, and black. It is often used in Vraja and a rustic form of ornamentation. Krsna often wears an arm bracelet of all white gunja beads representing Sri Radha. And in his worship of the stone from Govardhana, Mahaprabhu would wear a gunja mala representing Radha.

    • “Balarama reflects the joy and light of his younger brother.” Yes, and as we shall see ahead, he is not whole without Krsna.

  4. Pranama. Thanks for share this.

    In footnotes 2 is Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.14.229.

    Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura then began to dance in ecstatic love. He vibrated sounds by slapping his armpits with the palms of his hands, and he laughed very loudly.

    • In Caitanya Bhagavata Vrndavana dasa tells of how Mahaprabhu came to visit Srivasa while Srivasa was doing his puja for his deity of Narasimhadeva. Finally Mahaprabhu broke Srivasa’s meditation and then showed himself to be Narasimha. Having done so, he told Srivasa to ask for a blessing. Srivasa then praised him by chanting a prayer from Srimad Bhagavatam previously spoken by Brahma in sakhya rasa. The essence of this verse is as follows:

      “Brahma begins his prayers by respectfully glorifying the form of Krsna as he appears before him, expressing his desire to attain that prema of which this particular form is the object—the visaya alambana vibhava of sakhya-rati. First he describes Krsna’s form in terms of its syama colored complexion—comparing it to a soothing rain cloud—his body wrapped in the golden dress of a cowherd that resembles lightning. As such, he suggested that Krsna’s form wrapped in and thus illumined by the prema of his eternal associates is like a rain cloud of love showering down upon his thirsty earthly sadhaka’s.

      “However, since these are also features of Narayana, would not such praise be more appropriately offered to Narayana himself? Are not Krsna’s complexion and dress, properly understood, those of Narayana? To dispose of this doubt Brahma then seeks to distinguish Krsna from Narayana and assert the superiority of his form by praising Krsna’s forest ornaments, his gunja berry earrings, the flowers in his hair and over his ears placed there with the prema of his sakhas along with his forest flower garland. Narayana is not so ornamented with intimate fraternal love and as such lacks the sweetness of Krsna. Nor is he crowned with Krsna’s peacock feather that Brahma also praises, a crown representing both head/knowledge—its eyes—and heart/love—its beauty. The feather’s eyes are wise in that they are blinded by love to finding fault. Such is Krsna, known more for mercy than any other form of himself.

      “Brahma also asserts that while majestic Narayana has four hands, Krsna has two. And as indicated by the fact that in his left hand Krsna held cowherd yogurt rice stolen from his friend’s plate and a herding stick in this right hand, this dvi-bhuja form of Gopala Krsna is more charming, affording his devotees a variety of love not available in Narayana’s abode. Brahma thus praises Krsna’s hands and the items they hold as well as his soft, sweet feet, which due to insufficient body weight during his kumara age leave no footprints in the forest. Brahma also praises Krsna’s horn and flute and then distinguishes Gopal Krsna from Vasudeva Krsna of Mathura by praising him as the cowherd son of Nanda—pasupangajaya—with intense longing to attain his company as a cowherd friend. (SB 10.14 1)”

      Notably, in Vraja Madhumangala lives with Krsna in Nadagrama and he is the pujari for Nanda Maharaja’s Narasimha deity.

  5. I wish there was more to read. My thirst has been awoken!

  6. Pranams Srila Tripurari Maharaj and everyone … I read and reread certain paragraphs that connect and make sense … Some of them “His only earring kisses his cheek, and a lotus surrounded by bees adorns his ear. O Balarāma of deep voice! When will I hear your call to serve, the sound of your buffalo horn? ” “… this child was born to cheer the son of Yaśodā, to reflect his light and make it accessible, just as the guru does in relation to God.” It reminded me of an excerpt from Srila Prabhupad’s comment in verse BG 9.1 about this confidential relationship existing in that breath of conscience that Krsna imprints on Balaram to be used at His will of service as mentioned here.
    Thank you very much for this great gift shared in many ways that has allowed us to know a little more about Balaram and the little known to try to deepen in another way for the many reflective questions that make connect.
    I was left in suspense about Purnamasi, as another topic that will also be revealing for many of us says, please do not stop considering it. What will the ocean of this book be like? if it has barely shown a few drops and it already adds up! Jaay Sri Baladeva pouring out His Grace (Guruparampara) Ki! =)

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