From the account of Sri Sriman Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's preaching tour in South India, we hear that He took away two manuscript-books from there, one being the 5th Chapter of Brahma samhita, a tattwa grantha or treatise on philosophical culture establishing, within a narrow compass, the highest status of Sri Krishna as God supreme, and the other, Sri Krishna Karnamritamm, a Bhajan-grantha briefly containing the essence of the method of serving Krishna in the Srimad Bhagavatam as succinctly as ever, but fully to the point. In the one hundred and twelve shlokas of the Sri Krishna Karnamritamm, as we have got it, Srila Bilvamangala has shown how to Love Sri Krishna in the highest of the five types of attachment, viz. with madhura rati (sweet amorous attachment), God Krishna's most intimate devotees without reservation of anything, body, mind and soul, from Him. This sort of attachment when occurring between human couples is the subject matter of detestation among persons of decent thinking, for it has its origin in mutual gross lust, each partner contacting the other for enjoying carnal pleasure.
The ideal of the sweetest Amorous Love is found among the Gopis (cowherd maids of Sri Vrindavana) who offer themselves up to Lord Sri Krishna for His Pleasure, not for their to the slightest extent; they adorn themselves to please Him who attracts them with the melodious tune of His Divine Flute. The conception of such Love is very high, being quite unusual, nay, supra-human, and as such, it is not accessible to those who are not aspirants after it, practising it, thinking themselves in the innermost corner of their hearts as companion-maids under the Gopis. Sriman Mahaprabhu Chaitanyadeva took upon Himself the demonstration of such devotion by His On conduct in the latter part of His manifested existence in he world, as described in the third part of the Sri Chaitanya charitamrita of Srila Krishnadas Kaviraj Gosvami.
Our submission before our readers is that this kind of Love of the Gopis is incomprehensible to us, unless we have been able to purge off our mind of the last inklings of its lustful desire by means of constant contemplation of Transcendental Nature of the Gopis Love in the company of sadhus who mentally practise this Love in the wake of the Gopis and whose minds are ever free from any the least lustful desires. Before reading each shlokas of this book, we should, with a most respectful spirit of deep veneration, mentally invoke the grace of the true Vaishnavas of the Gopis' type for their help enabling us to approach the meaning with a pure mind unvisited by any wrong ideas. The principle is that of divesting ourselves of our enjoyers. We should commence reading each shlokas with a mood the consist service of Sri Krishna without reserving anything for their own comfort; what a brilliant example of the purest and holiest life. May the devout followers of the Gopis give us sufficient strength to understand the nature of their service to God and to acquire competence to assimilate the mead stored up in the melodious verses of Lilashuka Bilvamangala Gosvami. Let there be true peace for all.
Now we propose to concentrate our mind in he Sanskrit Text, its translation in the line of Srila Bhakti Vinode Thakur's Bengali rendering and elucidation following, as far as practicable, the commentaries Sri Balabodhini and Sri Sarangarangada of Sri Chaitanya dasa Gosvami and Srila Krishna Dasa Kaviraj Gosvami respectively.
The introduction of Rasa in psychological experience into devotion to God is the distinctive contribution of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's Gaudiya Vaishnavism. This is the logical outcome of emphasizing the extreme importance of the emotional aspect in a passionate devotion to God. In the later years of His life Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu passed the whole of His time in singing and hearing 'KRISHNA KARNAMRITAM' by Bilvamangala Thakur, 'GITAGOVINDAM' by Jayadeva, and the poems of Vidyapati and Chandidas in the company of Rai Ramananda and Svarupa Damodara, who could read His Feelings, and gave Him solace in His poignant emotion of Love-in-separation for Sri Krishna, by reciting the appropriate songs from them which exactly touched a deep responsive chord in His devotional Heart (C.C. Adi.XIII.42). Let us say a few words on the 'KRISHNA KARNAMRITAM' and about the poet, who hinted and sang of the Vipralambha aspect of God-love to which Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu gave a definite system and form, and practiced during the best part of His devotional life.
Sri Bilvamangala is also known as Lilashuka which name is said to have been given by his Guru Somagiri on account of his merit in describing the Loving Lila or Sports of Sri Krishna (Yadunandana's translation 1). Bilvamangala also calls himself Lilashuka in the concluding verse of the first Sarga of his Karnamritam. There seems to have been more than one person of the name of Bilvamangala but we are concerned with the author of KRISHNA KARNAMRITAM. The date of this poet is yet to be settled. In his Paddati, Sarangadhara (13th century) quotes some passages from Karnamritam acknowledging his indebtedness to Bilvamangala as its author (Indian Historical Quarter, June 1931 P. 338). About the author of Karnamritam is also mentioned in the Madhura Vijayam of Ganga Devi, wife of the Vijayanagara prince, Vira Kampura, who also reigned in the 13th century. After paying homage to Valmiki, Vyasa, Kalidasa, Bhatta Bana, Bharavi and Dandi, who lived many centuries before her, she mentions the name of the later poets such as Karnamritam Kavi, Tikkaya, Agasta, Gangadhara and Visvanatha. Mr. Govinda Wariyar has identified Tikkaya with Tikkana Somayaji who was a courtier of the Telugu king Manmasiddhi, who reigned about the end of the 12th century. Agasta was the uncle of Visvanatha, whose father was Gangadhara, all of whom graced the court of the Kakatiya king Pratapa Rudra of Warangal (1267-1323). Mr. Govinda Warriyar suggests that the poetess seems to mention the poets in chronological order so that the poet-author of Karnamritam who has been mentioned after Dandi and before Tikkaya (i.e. 8th and 13th century) might have flourished in the period between 8th century and the 13th century (ibid. P. 339). He has drawn our attention to the fact that in his commentary on one of Shankara's works, Bilvamangala speaks of his tutor, Padmacharya as the principal disciple of Shankara. As the date of the latter is believed to be Circa 8th century, so Lilashuka's period might have flourished either during the lifetime of Shankara or immediately after his disappearance. Mr. Warriyar further strengthens his view upon two or three tradition. Suresvara and Padmacharya, two disciples of Shankara, founded the Vetuvile Matham and the Tekka Matham at Trichur in Kerala, in the temples of which province Bilvamangala's name is devoutly remembered. The principal of the Vetuvile Matham claims a continuous spiritual succession from Bilvamangala. It is on account of this fact that the members of this institution Vetuvile Matham, still enjoy the privilege of offering Pushapanjali (offerings of flowers) to the Vishnu Image of Padmanabha at Trivandrum, to whom, according to tradition Bilvamangala offered the said worship for the first time. Mr. Warriyar suggests that as both the Mathams Vetuvile and Tekka founded by Suresvara and Padmacharya are situated very close to each other, it would have been easy for Lilashuka Bilvamangala, the Sanyasi of Vetuvile Matham, to have become a literary disciple also of Padmapad, the President of the neighbouring Matham (ibid. P. 336). This fact that Bilvamangala was at first a Shankarite follower before his conversion into Vaishnavism may be gathered from his own writing. He says that he was an 'Advaitin Shaiva' (Saraga.ii.verse 24 another verse to the effect quoted in Chaitanya Charita M.XXIV. 128). In another verse he seems to have abused Mukti by way of praising Bhakti, implying that the former stands with folded arms in servitude to the latter (I. 107). Mr. Warriyar remarks, "During this period even before Shankara, Vaishnavism was making headway in the South Under the active patronage of king Kulasekhar of Kerala", who was the author of the immortal Vaishnavite poem 'Mukundamala', which was quoted I Sri Rupa Gosvami's Bhakti-Rasamrita Sindhu, "He invited Vaishnava scholars from other provinces to check the advance of Buddhism and other non-devotional sects. Kulasekhar built the Kulsekhara temple in the suburb of Kranganore, another at Kulasekharapuram, and Vaishnavite Math at Kumbakonam (I. H. Q. June 1931, P. 326)". Prabhakara is said to have been employed by Kulasekhara to fight Buddhism. Sri R. G. Bhandarkar differs from Mr. Warriyar's view on the date of Kulasekhara (Vaishnavism P. 50). Mr. Warriyar remarks, "Bilvamangala's conversion to Vaishnavism was quite possible in an age of religious revival, when the disciples of Shankara founded the Maths at Trichur dedicated to God Vishnu in His manifestation of Parthasarathi and Narasimha" (ibid P. 336). Vallabha Digvijaya, the life of Vallabhacharya, tells us that Bilvamangala belonged to the Vishnusvami sect (III. 1.2. P.164). it may be possible, first, because neither the Ramanuja sect, nor the Madhva sect had yet come into being, and secondly, the Images of Nrisimha at the temples at Trichur further encourage this supposition because Nrisimha is the official Deity of the Vishnusvami sect (Cowell's Edition, Sayana's Sarva Darsan Samgraha, Rasesvar Darsana P. 141-142). The memory of Bilvamangala is still fresh at Trichur and other parts of the Kerala State. M. K. Rama Pisharoti suggests on tradition that Bilvamangala was contemporary of Kulasekhar who patronized him (1, 1-Q, 1931. 329). But this does not seem very probable. He himself admits that Prabhakara was employed by king Kulasekhara of Kerala, who was vigorously fighting to suppress Buddhism, and that Prabhakara preceded Shankara's disciple, Padmapad, and during the lifetime of Sankara, it was not Kulasekhara but Raja Raj and Raj Sekhara who were the kings. Kulasekhara tells us in his 'Mukunda Mala Stotram that he was the king; so it appears that Kulasekhara was earlier than Shankara. To meet this difficulty, Mr. Rama Pisharoti suggests that there were two Kulasekharas, one being the author of Mukundamala and patron of Prabhakara, who lived at the time of Somagiri and Lilashuka, the second Kulasekhara being a dramatist who lived before 788 A.D. (Ibid 329). It does not sees probable that two kinds of the same name would succeed one another. The poet and the dramatist Kulasekhara might well be one and the same. This Kulasekhara, author of the Vaishnavite poem Mukundamala, seems to be the same, as the famous Alvar Kulasekhara who wrote the Vaishnavite devotional poems in Tamil which have been included in the Nalayira Prabandham. Some scholars distinguish the Sanskrit author Kulasekhara from the Tamil author of the same name.
Bilvamangala, author of Krishnakarnamritam, seems to be the same as the author of Gopikabhisheka, a poem on the Deeds of Krishna. A good deal of Prakrit has been used in it. Mr. Govinda Warriyar likes to attribute its authorship to the grammarian Bilvamangala, author of the grammatical work Purushakara which refers to a grammar of the 12th century and which was referred to in his Dhatuvritti by Madhvacharya, the famous minister of the founders of the Vijayanagara (14th century ibid P. 336). His grounds for attributing it to the grammarian Bilvamangala is that some of its verses are chosen as illustrations of the Sutras of Trivikrama's Prakrit grammar. He seems to imply that there was another Bilvamangalain the 17th century, but we are not concerned either with him or with the grammarian Bilvamangala of the 13th century. The subject of our discussion is the Vaishnava poet Bilvamangala Lilashuka, author of the lyrical Krishnakarnamritam. The other two are never called as Lilashuka Bilvamangala. If we like to agree with Mr. Govinda Warriyar and Mr. Pisharoti and Lilashuka Bilvamangala lived at the end of the 8th or at the beginning of the 9th century we have to admit that Krishnakarnamritam is perhaps the first book which mentions the Love of Radha and Krishna, and the next book on that cult is Jayadeva's Gitagovindam.
The Radha Krishna cult is the further development of the devotional tendency of loving god in close fellowship and in the spirit and relation of a woman to her husband or lover. This tendency is striking in the Prabandham of the Alvars Goda, the famous woman Alvar, is said to have been married to the Deity Ranganath of the Srirangam temple. Tondaradippodi Alvar (in Sanskrit Bhaktanghri Renu) expresses in his Tirupalliyeducchi, (Paramatma Jagarana in Sanskrit) that to serve and love God in one's spiritual body is the Summum bonum of one's service to God.
Furthermore, the Gaudiya Vaishnavas (15th century) demonstrate that Radha is the concentrated essence of the Hladini aspect of God's Para-shakti (Chaitanya Charita Adi. IV. 68-69) but they distinctly admit that they have borrowed this conception of Hladini Shakti from Vishnusvami's Sarvajnasukta. The Radha cult is mentioned for the first time, so far as we know, in Krishna Karnamritamm of Bilvamangala. Who is believed to have belonged to the Vishnusvami sect. it is no wonder that the conception of the Hladini aspect of God's Shakti was transformed into Radha-cult in this sect, sometime before Bilvamangala, who had simply expressed it in his writing.
Krishnadas Kaviraj (16th century) by way of explaining the first Shloka of the Karnamritam, records the traditional account of the life of our poet, in his commentary, Sarangarangada. It is said Bilvamangala was a renowned scholar and lived on the eastern bank of the river Krishna in the south of India. He had an illicit love affair with a dancing girl who was a musician and harlot named Chintamani, who used to live on the opposite bank of the river Krishna, and whom he used to visit every night. One stormy night, finding no boat, he risked his life to cross the terrible river by floating on a corpse that lay on the surface of ht stream. But, to his disappointment, he found the gate of the prostitute's house bolted from within. He shouted her name with all his might, but it was of no avail. His cries were deadened in the deafening thunder, boisterous winds and torrential rain, which were beating on the windows and walls. What was to be done? Nothing could daunt his morbid passion, which should be satisfied even at the cost of his life. He was then as a devil incarnate. The walls were too high and steep to scale. The weather-beaten but passionate Bilvamangala made a last desperate attempt to climb the steep-wall. Having nothing else to hold on to, he seized the tail of a snake, which clung to the wall, and succeeded in leaping over but fell heavily to the ground on the other side of the wall, bringing Chintamani to the spot. In what was practically a dying condition, he was discovered by his live for whom, for the sake of a frantic infatuation, he had risked his life. Had she not found and succoured him, it is certain, he must have died. She carried him into the room and there nursed him tenderly as he hung between life and death. When he recovered consciousness, she pitied and abused him for his fool hardy venture, saying, "What a great fool you are! Shame on your learning! I know and I am always conscious of my own wicked life and profession. Had you been attached to God in the way you love me, you would have been an angel." It sounded like the call of God, to Bilvamangala, who had existed in a circle of hell, the whole face of things was instantly changed, so inspiring were her words at that great moment. To him, those words of hers were not merely a reprieve, but a total deliverance from his hateful life, a restoration that suffused his whole being. Her grim censure proved wholesome to the remorseful Bilvamangala; changed the whole course of his life, giving it a swift turn into spiritual channels.
The very next day he renounced the world and began the most severe asceticism, being initiated by his Guru Somagiri. Chintamani deserves commemoration for having saved him from death, both physical and moral, and presenting him to literature and to the world of Vaishnavas. It is God Who was mysteriously preparing him for a world where sins and lusts are unknown. God lifted him out of the slough of earthly sin through the instrumentality of Chintamani whom Bilvamangala has immortalized in the first shloka of his Krishnakarnamritam and makes obeisance to her who, in the character of a harlot, showed him the way to the kingdom of God. He lived for sometime at Vrindavana after his initiation. He is said to way from there to his native province. He rhymed with poetic grace, the felicity of his inner experience, the rapture of an enchanting love of God, in his immortal poem. He compares the very subtle sentiment of love with perversion to which he was blindly addicted in his early life, in his deliciously arresting verses of Krishnakarnamritam, which apart from describing the niceties of the Vaishnava religion, is a volume of enchanting poetry, distinguished as unique in the annals of literary art. To the Gaudiya Vaishnavas it is the gospel of spiritual Bliss, a record of that mysterious voice which was whispered in the inner ear of Bilvamangala, the blessed disciple of Somagiri.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu acquired this one Shataka of the three-Shatakas of Krishnakarnamritam from the South India. He heard it recited at a gathering of Brahmana-Vaishnava-Pandits on the bank of the river Krishna. He was so charmed to hear of the sweetness and grace of Krishna's divine love-sports which compose the subject matter, that He kept a copy of it with great care and enthusiasm (Chaitanya Charita, Madhya IX. 304-309). Sri Chaitanya told Rama Ray that His devotional principle is just the same as that found in Krishnakarnamritam (ibid. 324). Krishnadas Kaviraja says that there is no book like the Krishnakarnamritam in the whole of the threefold world. He who reads it incessantly, knows the depth of the charming beauty of Sri Krishna. It inspires one with unalloyed love of God (ibid. 307-308). Raya Ramananda, Vasudeva Datta Thakur and others made copies of it for their personal use. It has, since then, been regarded as the very best kind of devotion in the Gaudiya Vaishnava community. We are only discussing this first Shataka of 112 verses of the Krishnakarnamritam-which Sri Chaitanya recited, and which is the most popular in Bengal.
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