Rama Lila: From Vishnu toward Krishna

By Swami B. V. Tripurari

Saints tell us that Rama and Krishna are the same person. Yet Ramacandra was the personification of perfect moral character and Krishna appeared to be a cheater in some respects. To understand this apparent contradiction, we must try to understand the meaning of lila, divine play. God can be moral or immoral in appearance, yet whatever he does is absolute good. Conversely, the moral realm is not absolute: an act that is immoral in one instance may be moral in another. Morality is the means to check the evil of exploitation arising from material attachment. If we have no such attachment, then we cannot act immorally. Such is the position of Krishna, and of Rama as well.

While Rama lila emphasizes morality, Krishna lila emphasizes the possibility of life beyond the reach of morality. It is important to be moral, but it is also important to know that moral life in and of itself is not the zenith of spiritual pursuit and that the apparent immorality of Krishna is something different altogether. Caitanya Mahaprabhu was a perfect sannyasi, moral to the nth degree, yet he meditated constantly on Krishna’s apparently immoral affairs with the Vraja gopis. In doing so, he himself was never involved in extramarital affairs. Indeed, he exhibited the morality of Rama, both as perfect householder and later as a perfect sannyasi.

Rama is a maryada purusa, a perfectly dharmic (moral) lover. In Prince Ramacandra we find this maryada to the extreme: he vowed to have only one wife—eka patni vrata—at a time when it was common for monarchs to have harems. Ramacandra embodies the entirety of Balarama’s maryada—the maryada prurusa of Krsna—while the other qualities of Balarama are not fully present in him.

Within this maryada is Rama’s love for his devotees and their love for him. Thus it is not ordinary maryada. Although this love is contained in a form of moral appropriateness, it burns brightly in rasananda (sacred aesthetic rapture) beneath the surface. Laksmana’s sakhya rasa with Rama is most touching. Even while the better part of Rama’s lila involves the search for Sita, it is Laksmana’s sakhya and more so Hanuman’s dasya that stand out. The supporting roles of Laksmana and especially Hanuman are most compelling, and Valmiki develops them beautifully. The entrance to Rama lila is in dasya bhakti, and thus for all spiritually practical purposes it is Hanuman who is the most important figure in Ramayana. This dasya bhakti, realized by the grace of Rama nama, is what we find in the heart of Valmiki Rsi.

Although the sacred aesthetic rapture between Rama and his bhaktas is the heart of Rama lila, such bhakti-rasa cannot be developed to its peak of spiritual eroticism within his lila. When Ramacandra passed through the Dandakaranya forest, the sages residing there in meditation desired to become his devotees in the emotion of transcendental eroticism. However, Ramacandra informed them that in this incarnation he was not able to fulfill their desire because he had taken a vow to have only one wife. He then told them that they could only attain this devotional status in relation to his appearance as Krishna.

As for sakhya, in Rama lila we find that the sakhya of Laksmana is not allowed to fully blossom because he is the younger brother of Rama and therefore lacks the equality that is central to sakhya rasa. The revered Krsnadasa Kaviraja therefore writes that Laksmana vowed never to take birth again as the younger brother. Consequently, as Balarama in Krishna lila he is the older brother of Ramanuja—Krishna. He is just enough older that he can assume the role of an elder at times, but the actual difference in age is negligible—so negligible that Balarama and Krishna are really equals in friendship, formalities aside. Indeed, despite the dasya and vatsalya aspects of Balarama’s love for Krishna, it is he who is Krishna’s best friend. He is the example, the very deity of brotherly love. Because he presides over vatsalyasakhya, and dasya, we find a touch of parental love and that of a servant, but it is his sakhya that stands out. In Krishna lila he has full freedom—visrambhapranaya—while as Laksmana in Rama lila he had to acquiesce to the sometimes unpalatable, dutiful commands of Ramacandra. Thus if our heart calls for sakhya or, more so, madhurya rasa, we must go to Krishna lila, and that through Sri Caitanya and Nityananda.

Rama lila draws us beyond Vaikuntha by speaking to us of the possibility of sakhyavatsalya, and madhurya, even while it does not afford us those opportunities itself. In this way, it indirectly points to Krishna lila while directly offering the prospect of the dasya bhakti of Hanuman to the humanlike majesty of Rama. The realm of service to Rama is distinct from the Vaikuntha of Narayana, where the prospect is daysa bhakti to the majestic four-armed Godhead. There we find dasya and only and no hint of proper friendship, parental, or romantic love. The hint of these possibilities comes in Rama lila, and in Sri Caitanya we find the dutifulness of Rama, even as Sri Caitanya is preoccupied with tasting and distributing the love of that great cheater, Gopijana-vallabha.

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12 Responses to Rama Lila: From Vishnu toward Krishna

  1. Thank you Guru Maharaja for such a nice understanding.

  2. Dear Maharaja,
    pranama. In your article you gave an accurate and comprehensive summary of the standpoint of the Gaudiya-Vaisnavas towards Lord Ramacandra. I like your text. Although of course much more could be (and have been) said on the topic, you gave the gist of it in a few lines.
    I have a request. I am translating and publishing the complete Valimiki Ramayana in German (first of seven kandas is published). I am quoting from Vaisnava commentaries as well as from western/academic sources in my footnotes and I would like to add your text too (of course right now I cant say yet at what place in which kanda it will appear).
    I hope you can agree with that. Thanks in advance.
    Jaya Sita Rama.

    • Diviratha,

      Let me polish this piece a bit first, as it was thrown together for the occasion of Rama Navami in an hour or so. Then I will send it to you to cite in your book, one that sounds interesting.

      • Dear Maharaja,
        I just would like to mention that I published your text in the 3rd volume of my translation of Valmikis Ramayana into German. I am just working on the 4th volume (Aranya-kanda)
        Thanks again for your contribution. Jaya Sri Rama.

  3. Ok. Thanks Maharaja. You can elaborate on the topic as far as you wish. The length is not limited.
    I am grateful that you help to spread the glories of Sri Rama to the German speaking people. Very kind of you.

  4. <3

    Dear Guru Maharaja, I love these two passages:

    "Thus if our heart calls for sakhya or, more so, madhurya rasa, we must go to Krishna lila, and that through Sri Caitanya and Nityananda." Dayal Nitai!

    "The hint of these possibilities comes in Rama lila, the dutifulness of which we find in Sri Caitanya, even as he is preoccupied with tasting and distributing the love of that great cheater, Gopijanavallabha." Jaya gopi-jana-vallabha!

    http://www.harekrsna.com/practice/sadhana/morning/bhagavatam/jayaradha.htm – Especially sweet since the Saragrahi deities have been named Radha-Madhava!

  5. Dear Maharaja,
    just let me repeat that I am very thankful that you offered to write something from the Gaudiya-Vaisnava point of view. I have been researching for years to find a commentary from the Gaudiya point of view, but I found only Visvanatha Cakravartis commentary on the Bhagavatam and his comments about the Ramalila in the 9th canto. Do you know of any other commentaries?
    In any case it will be a valuable contribution for the German readers (Vaisnavas and non-Vaisnavas) to get an overwiew and/or detailed explanation about the relationships between Rama-and Krsna-worship, about the different rasas and moods involved (maryada/lila, Vaikuntha (Ramaloka)/Goloka etc.).
    I am looking forward to your text. Many thanks again.
    Jaya Sita Rama

  6. Dvija Gauranga dasa

    WOW!! such an eloquent and subtle, sophisticated presentation, Swami! LOVE it !! Reading this made me feel just like I was hearing from Srila B.R. Sridhar Maharaja .. so amaazing that he is well represented in you ! (but you remain not restricted .. ie it is not as if exclusively his influence is prominent in your style! .., a unique and super-sweet – at least to THESE ‘western’ ears!! – style!)

  7. Maharaja — Pranams. Excellent article. Thank you. One question arises for me, though. We often hear that Rama is a maryada purusa, a perfectly dharmic (moral) lover, as you have so nicely stated. But how then do we explain his shooting Vali in the back or his abandoning his pregnant wife toward the end of His manifest pastimes? I am sure it can be explained as lila in some way, but, even if this is true, it doesn’t seem to correlate with Rama as maryada purusa. Thoughts?

    • Fool I am, I forgot to mention the most important Point. Apart from the side of lila (everything is ultimately a divine Play) one of the most (or maybe even THE most) important Moral Message in the Ramayana is: married women are tabu!
      Vali violated this law when he took Sugrivas wife Ruma to his own wife although Sugriva was still alive (hiding in Rsyamuka).
      At the deathbed of Vali different arguments are given by Rama why Vali was killed in such a strange way (Rama hiding behind a tree). His most important Argument was that Vali had no right for Ruma. The read thread in the Ramayana is: dont look for other mens wives. No one has a right to live with or to enjoy them.
      This was also Ravanas weak Point. He was a great Brahmana and king and ha d a lot of good Qualities, but his behavior towards women was horrible- And he did not care if they were married or not.
      A man has to protect his wife, at all costs – so did Rama. And who violates this law must be punished – so did Rama.
      I hope this helps a bit. Jaya Sri Rama.

  8. Although your question is directed to Maharaja, I hope it is ok, if I comment on it (since I am translating Valmiki Ramayana into German and have studied ramalila a bit).
    There are different explantions: One is that Vali got a benediction from Indra in form of a golden necklace, whose power enables Vali to take half of the strength of an enemy during a battle. Since Ramas power is unlimited it would have given Vali unlimited power.
    Another explanation: Vali had conquered Ravana already in the past. In fact, he humbled Vali quite a lot. If Rama had won a battle against Vali easily (in open space on a battlefield), Ravana might start to doubt that Rama was an ordinary human being. To uphold the “image” of a human being (which was to be entertained at all costs, since Ravana could only be killed by a human being), Rama had to kill Vali in an indirect way, a way, which is clearly seen as against the Ksatriya laws.
    Conquering Ravana was a higher, a more important purpose than keeping Ksatriya laws.

  9. The Rāmacandra’s līlā is filled with maryādā. In Gaura-līlā, that maryādā releases all its potential to becomes audārya, the magnanimity full of rasānanda. There, Nityānanda Rāma is the avatāra of Balarāma, who is the original source of maryādā-puroṣottama (Śrī Rāmacandra, the great propriety’s personification). Unlike Rāma, Nitāi is a perfect avadhūta, someone who is above ethical codes of society, yet his behavior is completely moral. Nitāi sometimes is bewildering and even becomes a dvī-patnī-vrata. He wants that the dāsya and sakhya-bhāva that were hidden in Rāma-līlā finally flow freely and vigorously around the world.

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