This article has been sent to me by anurAAg, one of our well-known members. I am posting it here thinking it might be very interesting for other members as well.
Article of the Month - December 2004
Awakening the Inner Woman - Bhakti and the Doctrine of Love
It was the early sixteenth century. A distinguished scholar named
Jiva Gosain was head of the Vaishnavas in Vrindavana. At the same
time Mirabai, the great woman saint of medieval India, too
resided in the holy city. Once, the pious lady sent forth a
message to Jiva Gosain that she wanted to meet him and have his
darshan. He declined, saying that he would not allow any woman in
his presence. Mira retorted: "O virtuous one, every one in
Vrindavana is a woman. Only Krishna is Purusha (Male). Today only
have I come to know that there is another Purusha besides Krishna
in Vrindavana" Jiva Gosain, jolted into accepting the profundity
of her statement immediately rushed to Mira's side and paid her
The intense passion of Mirabai, which sought to model itself on
the fervent ardor of the gopis of Vrindavana, suggests that the
lord can be worshipped very effectively if the devotee imagines
himself to be a woman.
This unusual approach finds an influential _expression in the fact
that the great saint Chaitanya was considered by his followers to
be an incarnation of Radha (Krishna's favorite girl-friend).
Indeed, Chaitanya's mystic-ecstatic form of worship openly
encouraged male devotees to imagine themselves in the role of
gopis and it is in Radha's mood of madhurya-bhava, (the sentiment
of love), that Chaitanya is most frequently portrayed. His golden
complexion is often compared to that of Radha's, and in general
his beauty is praised as unsurpassable.
His followers drenched and sharing in the same intense
experience, often spoke of the great bhakta being transformed
into Radha before their very eyes:
"The Lord danced on till it was afternoon. And all the four
batches (of devotees) sang till they were tired.
And in this way the Lord's frenzy of love grew. It grew to such a
height that all of a sudden the Lord was seen there as Radha."
It seems as if Chaitanya's personality as a sannyasin, and as a
male, was incapable of channeling his deepest feelings. Only as
Radha could they be fully expressed. There is no indication
however that Chaitanya consciously and laboriously imitated the
gopis generally or Radha particularly. His frequent possessions
by Radha's moods and the sudden transformations in his appearance
are not linked to any militant regime of role-playing consisting
of remembrance, imagination or imitation. For Chaitanya the
assumption of Radha's mood was coincidental with his most intense
and complete _expression of devotion. It was in no way an aspect
of spiritual discipline and technique, but the ultimate goal of
all devotional activity - the pure and complete love for the
Chaitanya's identification with Radha, in context of his highly
emotional personality (as suggested by his biographers), is in
keeping with the fact that the female of the species is the more
emotional of the two sexes, and bhakti being a necessarily
emotional experience, Chaitanya's 'hyper-sentimentality' found
adequate _expression in the personality of Radha whose intensity
of passion can said to have paralleled Chaitanya's own frenzied
devotion to the Lord. Chaitanya's easy and spontaneous
participation in Radha's moods suggests she was a facet of his
personality which enabled him to express his devotion most
completely. His emotional capacity was said to be limitless, and
his emotional _expression was extraordinary. He was completely
awash in a sea of sentiment, feeling and emotion, and he often
behaved like a love-sick girl, restless, moody and excitable. In
addition, Chaitanya was said to be of a highly temperamental and
unpredictable disposition and he is often portrayed as
experiencing several different moods in rapid succession, or all
at the same time (a decidedly feminine trait):
"And the Lord passed his days in dancing as the various feelings
moved him. For now it was remorse, now sorrow, now humility and
now impatience, now pleasure and now patience and now again
anger, that moved the Lord thus. And in all these he passed his
This aspect of bringing out the inner woman has also been
referred to in the scriptures, and there are several passages in
the ancient Purana texts which aver that the gopis themselves
were men in their former births and were reborn as women because
of their desire for a more intimate relationship with the lord.
The Padma Purana says that when the great lord Rama entered the
forest named Dandaka, the virtuous sages residing in its wild
surroundings desired to engage in lila with the lord. Hence they
were all reborn as gopis in Vrindavana, and through physical
passion they found liberation from the ocean of existence.
Several eminent saints too speak of losing their manhood in
moments of deepest communions with the lord. The Gujarati saint,
Narsi Mehta, born a century before Mirabai wrote:
"I took the hand of that lover of the gopis in loving converse. I
forgot all else. Even my manhood left me. I began to sing and
dance like a woman. My body seemed to change and I became one of
the gopis. At such moments I experienced incomparable sweetness
In south India, the eminent Vaishnava exponent Vedanta Desika
used to wear the clothes of a woman while worshipping Krishna. An
annual festival is still held in Madras in memory of the saint in
which his image, dressed as a woman, is taken out in procession.
Swami Ramakrishna, the towering modern Bengali saint also
strongly believed that he could best achieve a vision of Krishna
only if he approached him as a woman. As an adult, Ramakrishna
undertook a systematic discipline of devotion as a woman of
Krishna. For about six months he wore women's clothes and
ornaments (sari, gauze, scarf, bodice, artificial hair) and
mimicked the movements, speech, smile, glance, and gestures of
Similar descriptions of divine romanticism are found in the
mystical literature of other traditions: the Kabbalah speaks of
approaching the Absolute with the divine passion of a lover, and
St. John of the Cross and other Christian mystics write of
becoming a "Bride of Christ," reserving one's love and passion
only for the lord. For St. Teresa of Avila, Jesus was the
bridegroom, the spouse, her partner in the spiritual life. Teresa
stresses the need to please the divine spouse; do not even
ordinary women try to please their human spouses? Consider the
following verse from one of her song's entitled "I am Thine, and
born for Thee":
Take, O Lord, my loving heart:
See, I yield it to Thee whole,
With my body, life and soul
And my nature's every part.
Sweetest Spouse, my life Thou art;
I have given myself to Thee
What wilt Thou have done with me?
Teresa expresses the Christian idea of obedience to the spouse
and her poetry speaks of total surrender to Jesus. Contrast the
above with the stark erotic sentiment of saint Andal of south
India (eighth century), who emphasizes the bride's longing for
Desire for the Lord consumes me
the Lord who measured the worlds
his power I cannot resist
his slave I have become-
the moon and the southern breeze
make me restless and full of sorrow
Do not add to my heartache, O koyil
Do not remain in this grove
Go to Narayana today
Bring him here
Or else I shall drive you away.
Andal's longing intensifies and in despair she addresses a song
to the dark rain clouds:
O cool clouds
Go to him who churned the ocean deep
Fall at the sacred feet
Of the lotus-eyed Lord
And make this request on my behalf:
Tell him that my life will be spared
Only if he will come
To stay with me for one day
If he will enter me
So as to leave
The mark of his saffron paste
Upon my breasts.
When in my heart I discover my beloved
When he comes to unite with me
Holding me in close embrace
Will then you rain upon us?
She appeals even to the deep blue sea:
O deep great ocean
Did not the lord enter you
Mixing, churning and tormenting you
Depriving you of the nectar of your body?
So also has he entered into me
Taken away my very essence-
Go to the Lord whose couch is the serpent
Tell him of my deep distress.
Indeed since ancient times have saints used the lover beloved
mode of address when they approach their chosen deity. Sringara
(the way of the lover) was an accepted mode of approaching god,
and is listed in several texts as one of the nine ways of bhakti
(e.g. the Bhakti sutras of Narada).
Andal's lover beloved mood found _expression in explicitly erotic
imagery. Experts have speculated on the possible reason for her
choice of phrases. As a young girl, on the threshold of womanhood
and marriage, it was perhaps natural for her to express her
longing for god in terms of sexual fulfillment. From Vedic times
the Hindu tradition considers marriage as sacrament and lays down
that a young girl be given in holy marriage anytime suitable
after puberty. Andal refused to face marriage with a human
bridegroom. As she saw it, she was betrothed to Vishnu; she was
waiting for him, longing passionately for him, desirous of
fulfillment. When the soul begins to seek god and yearns for him,
the physical and emotional phase of life and its external
circumstances will naturally influence the choice of language and
imagery. In Andal's case an intense inner experience was
expressed in terms of physical passion.
Here it is relevant to note that the followers of Mahaprabhu
Chaitanya often visualize themselves as female companions of
Radha, known as 'manjaris.' A manjari is a beautiful young gopi
who is resplendent with all charming qualities. She is always
pre-pubescent and on the verge of womanhood, or at the most she
is thirteen years old. This is so because, according to the
Vaishnava canon, this age is one of innocence and emotional
All over the world, the achievement of sainthood involves not
only the saint's effort to ascend to god but also god's
responding descent into the soul, "entering" it and taking
possession. In the text 'Chaitanya Charitamrita,' the lord says:
"According to the transcendent emotion (bhava) in which my
devotees worship me, I reciprocate with him. That is my natural
behavior. "Andal's desire that Vishnu "enter her so as to leave
the mark of his saffron paste upon her breasts," expressed with
unabashed emotion, is yet appropriate; it cannot be denied that
erotic imagery ideally expresses the attitude of utter surrender
to the godhead. In the spiritual journey to divine bliss, it has
been said that each individual has his or her own special kind of
"romance" with god. Andal's romance took the form of an anguished
cry to her beloved Vishnu to come and possess her.
Breaking through the Karmic Bondage of Samsara by Loving God:
The ancient text Vishnu Purana asserts that in such a committed
affection (for e.g. that of Andal above), the two chains of merit
and demerit, both of which are said to be the fetters for the
soul, are broken. The intense pleasure the devotee derives from
meditating on her amours with god (her chosen lord) takes away
the bonding effects of her good deeds, and the inner misery which
her soul is subjected to when she pines in the absence of her
lord cleanses her of the residual effect of any sinful karma and
she becomes free.
The Symbolic Significance of Krishna's Circular Dance:
Once, while dancing with his many girlfriends, Krishna attempted
to make them form a circle. He failed since each gopi wanted to
be near him. He then took each girl by the hand and the result of
the physical contact was such that each of the gopis lost her
faculty of perception and happily took the hand of the girl next
to her, thinking it to be Krishna's.
As the dance progressed, the gopis acted and moved in different
ways: one sang on a high and another on a lower pitch; a third
reclined on the shoulder of Krishna and the fourth received from
him his half chewed betel; one kissed the flowers that adorned
him and another pressed her bosom with the palms of his hands.
This diversity of movement points to a significant fact in
spiritual life: no two devotees have the same identical journey.
God draws different people in different ways. He is not the
commander of an army giving one single command to all. He is the
great lover and for him every human being is precious. He
multi-locates himself, leading each devotee according to his
individual disposition. This seems to be the idea behind the
belief that Krishna had sixteen thousand wives and lived with
them separately at the same time. In one palace he could be seen
being fanned by his wife, in another he played dice with his
queen, in third he was fondling his son, while in the fourth
palace he entertained his wife with light stories and so on.
The truth of the above assertion is expressed for example in the
lives of Mirabai (who pined for union with her lord, though
without explicitly emphasizing an erotic intent); Andal (who
longed to be physically penetrated by the lord) and St. Teresa
(who sought a spiritual surrender at the feet of Jesus). They
were all mystics, seeking to unite with the Supreme Being, each
in her own unique way.
In the golden words of Swami Vivekananda:
"What love shakes the whole nature of man, what love runs through
every atom of his being, makes him mad, makes him forget his own
nature, transforms him, makes him a god as the love between man
and woman? In this sweet representation of divine love God is our
husband. We are all women; there are no men in this world; there
is but One man - Hari and he is our beloved. All that love which
man gives to a woman, or woman to man, is here given up to the
Indeed, since between lovers there are no secrets, by approaching
divinity as a lover we enter into the mystery of god. There is an
inner innocent girl waiting within each of us, desiring to emerge
and play with our friendly cowherd in an exchange of love.
This article by Nitin Kumar.
References and Further Reading:
Anand, Subhash. The Way of Love - The Bhagavata Doctrine of
Bhakti: New Delhi, 1996.
Dehejia, Vidya. Slaves of the Lord (The Path of the Tamil
Saints): New Delhi, 2002.
Goswami, Dr. Sharanbihari. Krishan Bhakti-Kavya Mein Sakhibhav
(Hindi): Varanasi, 1966.
Kapoor, O.B.L. The Philosophy and Religion of Sri Caitanya: New
Kinsley, David R. The Divine Player (A Study of Krsna Lila):
Nagar, Amritlal. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (Hindi): Allahabad: 1995.
Nilsson, Usha. Mira Bai: New Delhi, 2003.
Rosen, Steven J. Vaisnavi - Women and the Worship of Krishna:
Satwalekar, Shripad Damodar: Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita (4
vols. in Hindi): Valsad (Gujarat), 1998.
Sharma, Dr. Munshiram. Bhakti ka Vikas (Hindi): Varanasi, 1979.
Sharma, Krishna. Bhakti and the Bhakti Movement (A New
Perspective): New Delhi, 2002.
Shrimadbhagvad Mahapuran (2 vols.with text and Hindi
translation): Gita Press Gorakhpur.
Sivananda, Swami. Lives of Saints: Shivanandnagar, 1993.
Varma, Pavan K. Krishna The Playful Divine: New Delhi, 1993.
Vivekananda, Swami. The Complete Works (Vol. 3): Kolkata, 2003.
Walker, Benjamin. Hindu World (Vol 1): New Delhi, 1983.