Published on September 21st, 2023 | by Harmonist staff5
The Rasa of Sri Radha
By Swami Sri Bhaktivedanta Tripurari
Gaudiya Vaisnavas are fond of chanting “Jaya Radhe!” Love of Radha, Sri Krishna’s principle consort, is central to this theistic school of Vedanta. Such love is described as the brightest jewel of sacred aesthetic rapture, unnatojjvala rasa. This love is accessible to devotees following in the footsteps of Sri Rupa Goswami both in terms of his teaching on bhakti-rasa in general and in terms of his own personal ideal of sacred aesthetic rapture. Sri Rupa’s personal ideal is that of a handmaiden of Radha—Radha dasyam—often referred to as manjari-bhava.
The now-common term manjarī-bhava is not used by Rupa Goswamī. In Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu he instead uses two different terms to explain this love of Radha. Sri Rupa first refers to this love as tad-bhavecchatmika (1.2.299)—that type of bhakti whose very life (atma) is the desire to taste the love (bhava) that a particular gopi has for Krsna. Tad-bhaecchatmika is tad-bhaveccha-mayi— to be filled (mayi) with the desire (eccha) for her (tad) ecstasy (bhava). Sri Rupa describes it as as a particular type of madhurya rasa that is preferable and involves pursuing the love of one who loves Krishna (Radha’s bhava) rather than pursuing a direct relationship with Krishna. Rupa Goswami also describes another type of madhurya rasa, which he terms sambhogeccha-mayi, sambhoga meaning a direct union or romantic relationship with Krishna. But his preference is clearly for tad-bhaveccha-mayi, the implication of which is that tad-bhaveccha-mayi madhurya rasa actually enables one to experience more intimacy with Krishna than pursing a direct relationship with him. How so? Because no milk-maiden can draw as much reciprocation from Krishna as Radha can. Thus if one attaches oneself to Radha as her assistant and intimate friend, the intimacy that she experiences with Krishna becomes the experience of oneself, a handmaiden who is wholly identified with Sri Radha in service to her. This is the position of Radha’s manjari. Sri Radha is the vine of love that most fully embraces Sri Krishna, and the flower (manjari) of that vine is nourished as the vine itself is nourished. Love of Radha is tad-bhavaeccha-mayi madhurya rasa. However, Sri Rupa Goswami also refers to it as bhavollasa, and as we shall see, love of Radha constitutes the fullest measure of this term.
Madhurya rasa is further described in Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu in terms of its visaya (object of love) and asraya (embodiment of love). As with other rasas, Krishna alone is identified as the visaya of tad-bhavaeccha-mayi bhakti rasa. Indeed, in his commentary on text 2.1.16, Sri Jiva Goswami emphasizes this point: “Krishna alone is the visaya-alambana.” This, of course, is much of what the entire book is about, as Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu begins by describing Krishna as “akhila rasamrta murti.” He alone is the visaya, and his devotees who taste rasa in relation to him are the asrayas, or personifications of five dominant loving sentiments. So it is clear that Krishna is the visaya of tad bhaveccha-mayi kamanuga bhakti, kamanuga being a division of raganuga bhakti centered on romantic love of God. The asraya of this love is those paradigmatic devotees like Rupa and Rati-manjaris (Rupa and Raghunatha dasa Goswamis, respectively) who embody this tad-bhaveccha-mayi—Sri Radha’s love of Krishna, her mahabhava. The asraya is Radha’s love embodied in her handmaidens.
However, because the handmaidens of Radha focus their attention on her rather than directly on Krishna, this brings up a quandary: what is Radha’s position in relation to this type of madhurya rasa, since Krishna alone is the visaya-alambana of bhakti rasa? Krishna is the object of tad-bhavaeccha-mayi madhurya rasa, but it appears that Radha is more the object of her manjaris’ love. Can Sri Radha be the object—the visaya-alambana—of this kind of bhakti rasa? This would appear to contradict the clear teaching of Sri Rupa on rasa tattva already mentioned: Krishna alone is the visaya-alambana of bhakti rasa. Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu, the ocean of the science of bhakti rasa, gives a simple and straightforward answer to the quandary. We need look nowhere else, for Sri Rupa’s treatise would be terribly incomplete if it did not address this point.
In text 2.5.128, Sri Rupa Goswami teaches that there are those who have rati for Krishna (a sthayi bhava or dominant loving emotion for him) who at the same time have love for another devotee. Generally this love for another devotee is less than one’s love for Krishna, or at best equal to one’s love for him. In such cases this love for another devotee or one’s friend is constituted of a sancari bhava, a loving emotion that augments ones dominant loving emotion for Krishna. Rupa Goswami calls this love for one’s friend—another devotee—a special sancari bhava named suhrt rati, “love of a friend.” Thus we learn that in Krishna lila devotees’ love for one another constitutes a sancari bhava named suhrt rati that augments their sthayi bhava, or dominant loving sentiment for Krishna as friend, lover, etc. Although this love is addressed by Rupa Goswami in the context of discussing bhakti rasa proper, in principle it also extends down into the lives of sadhakas, spiritual practitioners. Devotees love one another in a manner that assists them in loving Krishna. Thus for example, a husband’s healthy spiritual love for his wife is a love that assists or augments his love for God and vice versa. Love and attachment have their place not only in relation to Krishna but also in relation to his devotees.
However, in the same verse, Rupa Goswami goes on to highlight an exception with regard to loving a friend or another devotee. In an exceptional instance a devotee may love another devotee more than one loves Krishna! This love he says increases at every moment and, instead of nourishing the devotee’s sthayi bhava for Krishna, the devotee’s sthayi bhava for Krishna nourishes it! Thus there are two kinds of suhrt rati, or “love of the friend.” In the first kind of suhrt rati, a devotee has a sthayi bhava for Krishna—friendship, romantic love, etc.—and an equal or lesser degree of love for another devotee. This suhrt rati is a sancari bhava in which the friend is the object of that sancari bhava that nourishes the devotee’s sthayi bhava for Krishna in the way that sancari bhavas normally do. But in the second type of suhrt rati the devotee experiences a sancari bhava that is unique in that it is not a loving sentiment that augments one’s love of Krishna and is thus sometimes prominent in one’s loving relationship with him and sometimes not. Unlike ordinary sancari bhavas it is ever-present and ever-increasing. Furthermore instead of nourishing the devotee’s love for Krishna, the devotee’s love for Krishna nourishes it! Thus Sri Rupa Goswami distinguishes this loving sentiment from the sancari bhava known as suhrt rati by giving it its own name: bhavollasa—the “most exalted loving sentiment.”
What kind of devotee is it that can draw this extraordinary bhavollasa from another devotee? Sri Radha as devotee and friend turned deity clearly embodies the perfect example of whom Rupa Goswami is writing about in this section of Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu. And Radha’s handmaidens, Sri Rupa and Rati-manjaris perfectly embody this bhavollasa. Indeed, we find Raghunatha dasa Goswami—Rati-manjari—even deprecating Krishna in his extreme love for Radha! “Without your grace, Radha, I can’t stand to live another moment. And Vrindavana, which is even dearer to me than my life itself, I am disgusted with it. It is painful; it is always pinching me. And what to speak of anything else, I am even disgusted with Krishna. It is shameful to utter such words, but I can have no love even for Krishna unless and until you take me within your confidential camp of service.”1
Thus tad-bhaveccha-mayi madhurya rasa involves a sthayi bhava for Krishna and bhavollasa for Radha. Krishna is the object of the manjaris’ tad-bhaveccha-mayi madhurya rasa and Radha is the object of their bhavollasa. However, because this bhavollasa acts in two ways like a sthayi bhava—it never recedes into the ocean of one’s sthayi bhava for Krishna, and rather than nourishing the manjari’s sthayi bhava for Krishna, it is nourished by it—in these respects it functions like a sthayi bhava. The only difference between it and a sthayi bhava is that its object is not Krishna. Nonetheless many devotees have traditionally preferred to refer to bhavollasa as a sthayi bhava for Radha and Krishna—thus elevating Radha in this instance to the perfect object of love along with Krishna. There is no question of dethroning Krishna from his position as the visaya, but there is reason to elevate Radha to join him in this rasa as the object of love as a divine couple. And because we see this in the bhajana of great devotees such as Narottama Thakura, who for example refers to this divine couple as the singular object of his love (Radha-Krishna prana pati), devotees feel justified in making this extraordinary claim.
But does this elevation of Radha to the position of the visaya along with Krishna not contradict Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu? Some would clearly say “yes” and take a more conservative approach, granting that Radha is only the visaya of the manjari’s bhavollasa—a special sancari. After all, neither Jiva Goswami nor Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura have said that the bhavollasa is a sthayi bhava, much less one centered on Radha alone. But theology is something that is always in the making, while at the same time remaining faithful to all that has come before it.
Drawing on sastra yukti with regard to Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu’s siddhanta, we find that the term tad-bhaveccha-mayi itself can be understood to imply that Radha and Krishna are the object of manjari bhava. The manjari’s ideal is tad bhava, and while this term is usually rendered as “her (tad) love (bhava)”—the love of Sri Radha for Krishna—arguably it may be said that it is “their (tad) love”—the combined love of Radha and Krishna—that is the manjaris’ ideal, and not Krishna separated from Radha as in sambhogeccha-mayi madhurya rasa. Nor is it Radha separated from Krishna (heaven forbid). The Godhead in its fullest sense is rasa (raso vai sah), and the manjari’s love is for this expression of the Godhead. Sri Radha’s handmaidens’ object of love is rasa, or the mahabhava that involves Radha-Krishna becoming one in love. After all, there is no meaning to Rasaraja Krishna without Mahabhava-svarupini Radha. And while there is also no meaning to mahabhava without rasaraja, mahabhava is arguably the more important of the two: Krishna is Rasaraja because of Radha’s mahabhava, for in Sri Rupa’s theology God is what his devotees make him. He is their love more than he is anything else. Jaya Rupa! Jaya Radhe!
- Vilapa-kusumanjali 102, paraphrased in English by Pujyapada B.R. Sridhara Deva Goswami [↩]