Not laying emphasis on rituals as mandatory prerequisites, Krishnabhaktiadmits into its fold anyone who wants to love God Krishna, writes Dr Asha Goswami
Krishnabhakti implies a tenet or religion in which Shri Krishna as supreme god is the the object of devotion. It also signifies love for Krishna or Love of Krishna, and a cult which is promulgated by Krishna. From 7th century, most of the Indian regions were swayed by the waves of Krishnabhakti.With the result, it became part and parcel of the society and even formed a living tradition among the community of cowherds.
During this stage, the simple Krishnabhakti of the Gita denoting devotee’s personal relationship of love accompanied with devotion for God Krishna was converted into passionate adoration for the Lord which further developed as an erotic and mystic religion with cultic practices like adoring Krishna by singing his glory; dancing and experiencing him as bliss and sweetest essence while watching his leelas (leeladarshan). Such a Krishnabhakti was inculcated specifically to fulfill the urge of Indian society which due to repeated foreign attacks and political upheavals looked forward to relaxed environment which could be accessed by resorting to Krishnabhakti and adoring the Lord endowed with a fascinating persona who could dramatically respond to their yearnings and summon unto them a high personality.
This very Krishnabhakti was later propagated by Shri Chaitanya in a unique form of devotion with ecstatic singing and dance performances which sounds similar to the devotional dance expressions of the Sufis. Next, Vidyapati propounded non-dual Krishnabhakti in the form of love of husband and wife (kantabhava). While in Maharashtra Krishnabhakti was nourished by the devotee saints like Jnanadeva and Namadeva, who propounded adoration of Krishna in company with his wife Rukmini as a pure and devoted love and not as a love of temptations (madhura bhaava) in the form of Gopibhaava and Radhabhaava.
Krishnabhakti preached by Vallabhacharya known as Pushtimarga professes two-fold discipline — simple worship of Lord, forming sense of devotional attitude accompanied with self resignation, personal faith in personal God Krishna and love for him as supra human being; and his service, surrender to him, devoted faith and belief in his prasada.
Such a deep loving adoration of Krishna further culminated into the mystic romance (or erotic mysticism) of the relation of individual soul with the supreme soul in the form of Lord Krishna endowed with great charm, who is closer to the devotee’s heart as his beloved. No wonder if the Krishna devotees like Namallavara, Andala and Meera looked upon Krishna as their husband.
Another mode of Krishnabhakti, which developed side by side, is known as ‘amatory tendency of the cult’, which gave vent to the dual concept of Gopikrishna and Radhkrishna. Krishna is mostly worshiped in Rajasthan for his such relationships. Through this bhakti the devotee expresses deepest love as the sweetest one for Krishna just as a person feels for his lover. This sweet Krishnabhakti virtually symbolising erotic worship however propagates that such love expressions by the devotees represent “soul’s yearnings for the union with the universal soul”.
This mystic tone of Krishnabhakti sounds similar to the songs of the Soloman and the mysticism of the Sufis as well as the mystical doctrines of the Mahayana cult of the Buddhists, which proves that unity of ideologies and oneness of spiritual averment prevail amongst most of the religions of the world which impart similar spiritual sermons although through different terminologies, professing diverse cultic practices they lead the seeker the same way towards that singular ultimate reality (ekamsat).
Reappraising the Krishnabhakti, it may be added that in its earlier stage in Gita it professes simple devotion along with doing one’s essential duties without attachment only done for the sake of Lord Krishna, who is not outside this mortal world but has become one with the devotee. Not laying emphasis on rituals and ceremonial cultic practices as mandatory prerequisites, it admits into its fold everyone from society who can follow it in any condition and circumstances of his life only by adoring God Krishna as his own companion, friend, child, lover and kinsman, who could elicit upsurge of all affection and tenderness. No exaggeration if Gita’s Krishnabhaktiis known the highest form of religion as the religion of humanism. Worship of mount Govardhan — which also constitutes a mode of Krishnabhakti professing protection of the hills, the woods and their greenery along with the rearing of the cows — if practised rigidly would also go a long way in saving the environment.
The later Krishnabhakti inculcating two separate cults, gopis’ joint adoration of Krishna, and Radha’s independent worship of Krishna invests the devotee with the worship of the Lord in his symbolic imagery of eternal boy nityakishora with Radha as his mistress in joint form, and as Shri Krishna in company with the gopis and Radha in the centre during raasa with unreserved and absolute surrender of the body and soul. Raasa is considered the best form of Krishnabhakti since by such devotion the devotee embraces the Lord in his form as sweetest essence: Raso vai sah. During this playful raasa, devotion — neither masculine nor feminine sex — exists in the deity Krishna towards whom only grows the affection of the devotee with utter surrender which finally leads him unto that joyous eternal union with him. This discussion reveals how the simple devoted love for Krishna during ages turned into human passion and how the heroic element in Krishnabhakti was transformed into erotic and romantic devotion.
The writer is a noted Indologist and authority on Krishnaite studies firstname.lastname@example.org