Adventures in Humility

News, Views, and Chews on spiritual issues.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Case of the 16,000 Wives

Originally posted on Gaudiya Discussions:

On another forum a discussion ensued about the nature of Krishna-lila, namely the lila describing Krishna's marriages to 16,108 damsels. Various points were made relating to the symbolic or literal nature of this lila, the former category of points making little sense. There were also some careless errors suggesting that the damsels were gopis, that the marriages themselves were symbolic and not literal, and so on. The main thrust of the 'symbolic' debate is that the lila is a metaphorical rendition of the Kundalini energy's journey to merge with the thousand-petalled lotus Sahasrara-chakra in the brain. Being an advocate of the literal position, I've looked through Srimad Bhagavatam for the references to this lila and have managed to collect various points that show without doubt that the literal interpretation is the one that fits most sensibly within the context of the entire narrative. I make these points here for the pleasure of the assembled Vaishnavas.


The questions first comes up in the very beginning of the narrative, when Maharaja Pariksit humbly asks Sukadev Gosvami to relate to him the entirety of Krishna's life story. He asks several questions for starters; How could Balarama appear first in Rohini's womb before Devaki's? Why did Krishna leave Vraja? Where did He live then? What did He do there? Why did He kill Kamsa? How many years did he live in Dvaraka? And then:

patnyaH katy abhavan prabhoH

"How many of the Lord's wives were there?"
(SB 10.1.11)

Sukadeva Gosvami's immediate and joyful reply was that such narrations destroy the sins of Kali-yuga and that also: vAsudeva-kathA-praznaH/ puruSAmz trIn punAti hi// vaktAraM pracchakaM zroTrMs/ tat-pAda-salilaM yathA//: "Questions about the stories of Vasudeva purify the three parties involved - the speaker, inquirer and listener - just like the Ganges water, which flows from the feet of Vishnu, purifies the three worlds."

The point at which Krishna meets the 16,000 damsels is related in SB 10.59. Briefly, Bhaumasura (aka Narakasura) kidnapped the virginal damsels (33), the daughters of various kings, and held them hostage in his residence. This shows that they were royal princesses instead of gopis, and that immediately upon beholding beautiful Krishna they became filled with the desire to have Him as their husband (35). It is quite common in Indian society (especially the Vedic society of bygone ages) for a woman to be rendered 'impure' after prolonged association with males. To cite just one example of this, we can remember the incident in Ramayana where Sita-devi was subjected to a test of fire to determine Her "purity" after suspicions are aroused due to her kidnap by Ravana. It is highly unlikely that anyone would have married any of these princesses due to the 'taints' of being associated with Narakasura and, considering this fact, is it any wonder that they had no choice but to surrender unto Krishna after having no other shelter?

To counteract the claim that this surrender was itself a spiritual connection and not an actual marriage of sorts, the Bhagavata does confirm that Krishna married them. How did He do this? Did He marry them all at once, or one after the other?

atho muhUrta ekasmin |
nAnAgAreSu tAH striyaH ||
yathopayeme bhagavAn |
tAvad-rUpa-dharo 'vyayaH ||
gRheSu tAsAm anapAyy atarka-kRn |
nirasta-sAmyAtizayesy avasthitaH ||
reme ramAbhir nija-kAma-sampluto |
yathetaro gArhaka-medhikAmz caran ||

"After all this, Bhagavan [Krishna] married those women in different houses simultaneously, according to the appropriate rites. The imperishable oneassumed as many forms as there were women. He lived with them, without leaving, in those incomparable residences. Krishna is immersed in His own pleasure, but He took pleasure with His wives, while performing His household duties, just like anybody else. He performs deeds that are beyond comprehension."
(SB 10.59.42-43)

Does any of this sound symbolic? Rather it speaks of Krishna's incomparable glories and infinite capabilities; fancy expanding into 16,000 forms to live in 16,000 different palaces and carrying out different duties thereof! Critics found it hard to swallow the idea that Krishna could do all of this not to mention more. And what to speak of having children? After all, the Bhagavata does say elsewhere (10.90.31) that Krishna had ten sons with each and every wife! And as if that wasn't enough, the names of eighteen of the 'best' sons are specifically noted. SB 10.90.41 also relates that there were 38,800,000 teachers for the purpose of educating the youth of the Yadu dynasty. How is all of this possible for the material mind to comprehend?

It is easy to see why one would choose to hide behind logic and rationalisty, but the answer to the question is contained in the last line of SB 10.59.43 as quoted above, and this is especially brought out in another episode of Krishna-lila. Upon hearing Krishna's separate marriages to 16,000 damsels and His taking up residence with each and every one of them, Devarsi Narada became astonished!

Sri Suka said: "Hearing that Naraka had been killed, and that one person, Krishna, had married many women, Narada desired to see this. 'It is astonishing that one person with one body has married 16,000 women, and lives simultaneously in many houses.' Saying this, the eager sage of the gods came to see Dvaraka." (SB 10.69.1-3)

Whatever did Sri Narada find there? Upon reaching Dvaraka (with fantastic descriptions of the city's opulences), he was welcomed by Krishna who offered him His own personal seat to sit. After an exchange of reciprocal affection, Krishna asks Narada what he wishes, to which the latter replies that it was enough to have had a darshan of Krishna's lotus feet. Narada then leaves the palace and enters into another only to be welcomed again by Krishna, who is apparently unaware of the previous exchange in the previous palace! See? smile.gif

Narada was amazed. He rose silently and went to another residence. There, too, he saw Govinda, who was indulging His infant children. Then in another residence, Narada saw that preparations had been made for taking a bath. Elsewhere, Krishna was placing oblations in the three sacrifical fires, worshipping with the five sacrifices, feeding the twice-born and eating their remnants. In another place, Krishna was sitting down at dusk and silently chanting japa-mantras. In yet another place He was manoeuvring around in the fencing area with sword and shield.

Elsewhere, Krishna, the elder brother of Gada, was wriding horses, elephants and chariots, and, somewhere else again, He was lying on a couch being eulogised by bards. In one place, Krishna was consulting with His ministers such as Uddhava, while elsewhere He was enjoying sporting in the water surrounded by women and courtesans. In another place He was giving beautifully bedecked cows to distinguished members of the twice-born castes, and listening to auspicious storis from the Puranas and epic histories. At some point, in another beloved's house, Krishna was telling jokes and laughing, while elsewhere He was pursuing dharma, artha or kama. In some other place He was meditating on the supreme being who is beyond prakriti, and serving His gurus with desirable objects, enjoyments and worship. And somewhere else Keshava was preparing for war against certain people, and elsewhere again, alliances with others. In yet another palace, Krishna was contemplating the welfare of the righteous, along with Balarama.

Narada saw Him making arrangements for traditional marriages with due pomp for His sons and daughters, with suitable brides and grooms at the appropriate time. He saw great celebrations by the Lord of the lords of yoga for His children when they were sent off and when they returned. All this astonished the people. In some placs, Narada saw Krishna offering sacrifices to all the gods wth elaborate rituals, of fulfilling His dharma by building monasteries, groves and wells. In other places, He was roaming around in the hunt, mounted on a horse from the Sindh province, and killing sacrificial animals, surrounded by the Yadu heroes. Elsewhere, the Lord of yogis was wandering about in disgust among His ministers in the inner section of the city, wanting to find out the attitudes of each. (SB 10.69.22-36)
Get the idea yet? smile.gif

The mind of the critic runs amok as he tries to comprehend all of these things whereas the devotee, who views the Beloved with eyes tinged with the salve of love, simply sighs joyfully as He exults upon hearing his Beloved and His opulences being glorified in such a beautifully descriptive manner. The devotee who has nothing but pure love for Krishna does not consider any of these opulences a big deal, since pure love is as pure love does and any glorification becomes a background presence. It is worth considering, however, exactly how and by what potency any and all of the above takes place.

"After seeing the exhibition of yogamaya by Krishna, who was following the ways of humans, Narada said to Hrishikesh with a smile: "We know that Your yogamaya is hard to perceive, even for magicians. But it will become manifest, O soul of lords of yoga, by service to Your lotus feet. Give me Your leave, O Lord, for I will wander about the worlds, which are overflowing with Your glories, singing about Your lilas which purify the earth." (SB 10.69.37-38)

Therefore, even though it is surprising that the critics who doubt these things claim to be devoted to Krishna, it can be clearly seen that Krishna's relations with His 16,000 wives are an effortless manifestation of His power, which is incomparable, inconceivable, and which is infinitely astonishing. If insistence is made that all of these things are purely symbolic, the the burden of proof is on such critics to show how this incident is symbolic in the context of the wider narrative. What is the symbolic nature of Krishna's children borne from the 16,000 queens, for example?

Sukadeva Gosvami closes the chapter with a final word:

yAnIha viszva-vilayodbhava-vRtti
karmAny ananya-viSayANi harIz cakAra
yas tv aGga gAyati zRNoty anumodate vA
bhaktir bhaved bhagavati hy apavarga-mArge

"Hari, the cause of the manifestation, maintenance and destruction of the universe, did these things; no one else is able to. Devotion for Bhagavan, who is the path to liberation, will arise in the person who sings about, hears and rejoices in them, dear king."
(SB 10.69.45)


[All translations (some slightly modified) by Edwin F. Bryant.]

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Back to basics?

If I'm honest with myself, I'm beginning to get a little tired of discussing the same old things on GD. To quote an IGM expression, it is like "chewing the chewed". All of the discussions relating to the gaps in the IGM guru-parampara as well as eligibility for siddha-pranali/deha are all beginning to sound a little elemental now.

I seriously cannot see any new information on such topics coming forward in the near future. Sometimes I reflect on Madhava's posts where he states that his original goal in forming the GD forums was to discuss the fundamentals of Rupanuga siddhanta. This is something I'd like to know more about, the subtle nuances of the doctrine and the ecstasy gained thereof.

What a shame that the 'Book Study' section of the old Raganuga Forums never took off. But then again, there were only a few posts relating to BG study if I remember correctly, and there wasn't much participation there either. Perhaps we can open a new section again that is devoted to scriptural study just so long as there are enough members who wish to participate. The two texts I'm interested to study and which are on my mind now is Laghu-bhagavatamrta and Ujjvala-nilamani. No idea why, just these two texts seem to contain a lot of interesting stuff to put it mildly!

So I hope that when Madhava gets back, he will bring a lot of joy and devotion back from Vraja with him!

Thursday, November 24, 2005


It is not without reason that the Age of Kali is often referred to as the Age of Quarrel. Bicker bicker, snipe snipe; that's all anyone seems to be doing these days. For no reason at all too.

Of course I am not perfect on this account but it becomes disheartening to witness it going on for an extended period of time with no end in sight. Sometimes I wonder how much bickering is actually "genuine" and is not a case of picking a fight? The mentality of demonisation is very much alive, demonising of people who may not agree with or accept all of the cherished beliefs that you hold.

Panditah sama-darsinah. Brahma-bhutah prasannatma. A long and arduous process in order to reach this stage, but worth it nevertheless. Sri Gauranga, the divine blacksmith.

Status of naiveté

It's been quite some time since I visited GD, perhaps 4 or 5 days. I got a little bored with it considering that a good number of the regular contributors were away in Vraja for Karttik and the activity was reduced to perhaps 2 or 3 posts per day. I didn't really fancy loging onto the site just to read references to Sridhar and Narayana Maharajas so I just thought the best thing to do was avoid it for a while. stil have some stuff on Ekadasi I'd like to write. Considering that this Sunday is Utpanna Ekadasi, it might be a good idea to write it up. If only I wasn't so busy...

Anyhow I've been thinking lately about how useful naiveté can be in a spiritual quest. Obviously it is impractical to be naive in matters of selecting a guru, discriminating about certain Vaishnava sanga, and so on, but I think it can be useful to keep 'fresh' while on one's own individual spiritual path.

It has been my experience in the past that whenever I've reached a stage where I know "too much" about something, or perhaps "everything" about it, it then becomes boring and tedious to familiarise oneself with the concepts every time an issue comes into view. Granted, it is impossible to know God fullybut this is obviously a practical consideration. With all of the major (spiritual) experiences that originate with advanced and direct interaction with divinity that Gaudiya Vaishnavism provides, and with all the references to the experiences of Krishna being "ever new", nava-nava-rasa and so on, these are all obviously practical things that can hardly be touched by a beginner.

I have an idea that it is possible to know "everything" in a theoretical manner. This can be afforded by reading the same books again and again until one has memorised the entire text and is capable of verbal repetition of it as well as engagement in debate. Theoretically speaking, it's possible to know God and the entirety of Gaudiya siddhanta.

Is it possible, then, to become "bored" with Gaudiya siddhanta when reading/hearing the same things repeatedly? When likened to the process of harvesting rice, it becomes obvious that the theory is the husk and the practicality is the edible kernel. It is the grain of rice that we eat and enjoy and get nourishment therefrom; the husk is essential only for the growth of the kernel and once it's purpose has been served, it can be cast away. Therefore it is most important to pay due attention to the practical aspects of Gaudiya Vaishnava belief; hearing and chanting with devotion, japa, kirtan, authorised smaran, and so on. The theoretical aspects perhaps exist to maintain and nourish the inner sprout of bhakti and can be "discarded" or significantly minimised at the appropriate time. After all, the CC does say that knowledge of Krishna's aisvarya shrinks the devotee's prema.

But where such knowledge is concerned, I'm beginning to think that it is important to observe a certain limit of naiveté in order to prevent "boredom" and too much rehashing of theoretical concepts while not paying enough attention to the practicalities. We do not need to know everything right away. Oftentimes we discover a new aspect of siddhanta that we previously didn't know about, or perhaps we had heard of it before but hadn't paid much attention at the time. It is this joy of discovery that needs to be maintained and upkept at all times, the sheer delight of experiencing the broadening of one's schema, the constant presence of the "WOW!" factor.

I feel that such an abiding feeling of joy and discovery is essential for the sadhaka's journey into raganuga-bhajan. Greed is mean to present of course, but what is greed but an increasing extension of the joy of discovery that existed at the beginning of the journey?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Prabhodhani Ekadasi

Today (right now, the night vigil) is the day of Utthana [Prabhodhani] Ekadasi.

"Also, in the Padma Purana: 'The unlimited Lord, the rider of Garuda, fulfils all the desires of those who fast with undivided minds on the day when He wakes up from His sleep on the bed of serpents in the ocean of milk.'" (HBV 16.293)

"In the same book, in a conversation between Yama and Narada: 'O sage, now I will tell you something else, the most secret of secrets. The Ekadasi in the bright fortnight of Karttika immediately awards devotion to Lord Hari. It is called Prabhodani. Best of sages, the diverse, unmanifest divine form of Vishnu is manifest as Dvadashi in this world of men.'" (HBV 16.300-301)

"In the Skanda Purana, the greatness of Prabhodhani: 'Dear son, men who fast and worship Lord Madhava with devotion on this day are freed from any sins that they may have acquired in their childhood, youth or adulthood, indeed the sin of seven lives, whether great or small, dry or moist or very secret. Best of sages, Govinda burns all that when He is worshipped on this tithi.'" (HBV 16.305-307)
Dig-darshini-tika: Now he describes the greatness of worship and praise. These three verses deal with worship. 'Dry' sins are those done earlier, 'moist' those present.

"In the Skanda Purana: 'All the sin that one has accumulated during a thousand previous lives burns like a heap of cotton during the vigil on Prabhodhani. O sage, even a man who has performed a terrible sin like killing a brahmana becomes pure if he performs the vigil of Vishnu. Whatever sin one commits by his deeds, words or thoughts, Govinda cleanses away on the vigil of Prabhodani.'" (HBV 16.388-390)

"Prabhodhani including the vigil leads one quickly to the world of Vishnu, together with past, present and future relatives. The forefathers of someone who performs Krishna's vigil are liberated from hellish sufferings and, ornamented and ecstatically happy, depart for the world of Vishnu. Keeping vigil on Prabhodhani without a doubt liberates those born in the family of one's wife, mother and father." (HBV 16.395-397)

"In the Kashyapa Pancaratra: 'If an initiated, devoted Vaishnava eats food, even fruits or roots when I get up, go to sleep or turn over in My sleep, I will never forgive his offence. I will throw him down into a terrible hell, where he will stay until the destruction of the universe.'" (HBV 12.101-102)
Dig-darshini-tika: Here he gives an exception to the rule allowing eating at night [discussed in verses 97-100]. 'Offence' refers to his eating food, or to all things he has done earlier on and now.

"Elsewhere: 'He who eats fruits or roots or who drinks water when I go to sleep, get up or turn in My sleep, thrusts an arrow into My heart!'" (HBV 12.103)
Dig-darshini-tika: In the previous verse he showed that Vaishnavas should avoid eating on these three Ekadashis, and now he shows in the same way everyone should carefully avoid it. 'He thrusts an arrow into My heart' means he commits a great offence.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Even Lakshmi cannot get it

yebA lakSmI-ThAkurANI, teGho ye kAkalI zuni',
kRSNa-pAza Aise pratyAzAya
nA pAya kRSNera saGga, bADe tRSNA-taraGga,
tapa kare, tabu nAhi pAya

Even when Lakshmi Thakurani hears the sound of the flute, She comes to Krishna with great hope. Not getting the association of Krishna, the waves of Her thirst increase and She performs austerity, but still She does not get it.

- CC 3.17.47