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Narrations on the pastimes of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Radha-Krishna.

The Taking of the Toll - Dana-lila of Rajendra

Jagat - Mon, 12 Jul 2004 18:38:53 +0530

The Taking of Toll

Being the Dana-lila of Rajendra. Translated into English by Ananda Coomaraswamy with an introduction and notes, and a woodcut by Eric Gill.

The Old Bourne Press

user posted image

Kanh have I bought. The price he asked I gave.
Some cry “Tis great” and others jeer “Tis small.”
I gave in full, weighed to the utmost grain,
My love, my life, my self, my soul, my all.
Jagat - Mon, 12 Jul 2004 19:18:30 +0530


THE Hindi poem here translated is a Vaishnava mystery: not a play, however, but intended to be sung with appropriate gesture. The milkmaids are the souls of men: Krishna is God, his fellow herdsmen the Powers of Light. The milkmaids have been accustomed to go about their daily tasks, taking religion very much for granted: but a sudden encounter brings them face to face with deeper problems than they have been wont to solve, for the Keeper of the Ferry demands His dues, failing which they must fare alone and at night through a dangerous forest, and may fall into the hands of thieves. At first they are merely scornful, then angry: then they vainly seek to buy themselves off with a trivial gift, still protesting against the robbery, as they regard it.

Then one of the herdsmen hides the boat, and there is nothing for it but to spend the night with Krishna. The milkmaids yield to Him not merely toll, but body, soul and goods: they join with Him in the Ras Mandala, or General Dance, and other festivities.

The conception of the General Dance, very important in Vaishnava symbolism, will need no explanation to those who are familiar with the old English carol "To-morrow will be my Dancing-Day," which was still sung in Cornwall when recorded by William Sandys early in the 19th century. The first two verses and the last are as follows:

To-morrow will be my dancing day.
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing Oh! my love, Oh! my love, my love, my love, my love,
This I have done for my true love.

Then I was born of Virgin pure
Of her I took fleshly substance,
Then was I knit to mans nature
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing Oh! my love, Oh! my love, my love, my love, my love,
This I have done for my true love.

Then up to Heaven. I did ascend,
I dwell in sure substance
On the right handoff God, that men
May come unto the General Dance.
Sing Oh! my love, Oh! my love, my love, my love, my love,
This I have done for my true love.

Quoted by G. R. S. Mead, The Quest, October, 1910.

In this dance, as represented in the Krishna legend and in the corresponding pictures, the form of Krishna is multiplied, so that when the milkmaids join hands and dance in a ring, there is Krishna between every pair.

The fair Braj girls and the dusky Krishnas,
like to a gold and sapphire necklace !

In this way He is represented as common to all and special to each.

The conception of Krishna as Keeper of the Ferry is also of great interest. Possibly in this poem the ferry is a ferry and nothing more. But it is at least probable that this piece of symbolism has its origins far back in Indian imagery, where this world is likened to a sea (samsara), and to reach the further shore is to be saved (mukta) from all further voyaging. In just this sense an other old English carol, "Come over the burne, Besse," represents Christ as waiting on the other side and calling to Besse, who in Vaishnava art would be Radha:

Come over the burne, Besse,
My little, pretty Besse,
Come over the burne to Me.
The burne is this world blinde,
And Besse is mankind,
So proper I none can find as she.
She dances and she leaps,
And Christ stands and clepes,
Come over the burne, Besse, to Me.

But the symbolism in our poem is a little involved, because it is clear that had the milkmaids been allowed to use the boat, they need not have remained with Him, but would have paid the toll and gone their way. Bui even this can be explained in terms of Vaishnava philosophy. We may take it that the boat is the vehicle of Buddhist or Vedanta thought, in which the soul may cross the wide sea, to realise itself as one with the Great Void or with the Great All, as the phrase may be. But the Vaishnava lovers indignantly repudiate this type of salvation, wherewith the distinction of God and the soul is utterly destroyed; not necessarily denying its possibility, they would deliberately choose eternal service and adoration as a dearer salvation. Thus we can very aptly interpret the hiding of the boat as the setting aside of the Vedanta in favour of the Visishtadvaita. This may at any rate account for the Ferry, considered historically, even if nothing so abstruse is intended in the actual poem.

Another piece of old Indian symbolism is the reference to the tigers of destruction in the forest of lust.

It should be noted that the Taking of Toll belongs to the period of Krishna’s overlordship in Mathura. He is no longer the playmate of the milkmaids, but in a position to receive their homage, and it is just this change which at first they resent.

We cannot but be struck by the combination of profound philosophy and concrete imagery characteristic of the Vaishnava poetry. Thus in one place the milkmaids are bewitched by Krishna’s glorious garments, the ring in His nose and the bells upon His waist: in another, when they speak of Him as possessed of every virtue (sära-guna), it is only to correct this limitation in the same breath by naming Him the Unconditioned (niraguna) and Deathless (akhaya). These phrases show how deeply the Vedanta philosophy has penetrated even the most popular thought. There may seem to be a want of logic in speaking of the personal Bhagavata as niraguna, unconditioned: but this constant feature of bhakta poetry, is defensible from the standpoint of Vedanta, which likewise identifies “This” and “That,” jivatman and Paramatman. In the words of the Bhagavad Gita (vii, 24) "Men of no understanding deem Me to have come from the unshown to the shown estate, knowing not My higher being to be changeless, supreme." He is both the Unshown and the Shown.

The Dana Lila has been often printed, and is commonly sold as a tract in the bazaars of Hindustan. The authors name in many copies is given as Rajendra; we may infer that this is a work of the 18th or early 19th century. The poem consists of forty verses, chiefly caupais and chands. The first verse, however, is a doha, and reads-

calo sakhi, tahan jaiye,
jahan basata Brija-raja
Gorasa becana, Hari milana,
eka pantha do kaja.

I have a quite different Dana Lda in MS. beginning:

zrl Brinda-bipana suhavano
Ara bamsl bata ki chAGha

the author’s name being given in the colophon as Dhravadasa.

I had intended to print the Hindi text in Nagari characters facing the translation, but have not been able to do so. :The translation is based on printed texts, two in my own collection, and two in the library of Sir George A. Grierson; to whom I am indebted for their loan. Many other printed texts, from the year 1865 onwards, are to be found at the India Office and at the British Museum. The variant readings are very numerous.

In the very few places where the translation is not absolutely literal, the point has been explained in the notes. I have also endeavoured to make the course of the action clear by means of marginal explanations; these, of course, are not in the original.

I have printed “sh” for the more exact z and S of strict scholarship, but retain in all italicized quotations.

The illustration has been cut on wood by Mr. Eric Gill, after a damaged Indian drawing of the latter 18th century.

Jagat - Mon, 12 Jul 2004 19:58:07 +0530

The Taking of Toll

"Come now, my dears, and there let us go
to where the Lord of Braj is abiding:
Two ends in one journey attaining,
The sale of our milk and meeting with Han. (1)

Our Lord is the undivided .Brahma,
Whose every hair is the womb of a world;
Who is in all wise and yet in no wise, the Brahma undying,
And now is He come out of Mathura into Brindaban, (2)

Where are inclined the thoughts of the herdsmen and milkmaids,
And of all the sages who dwell in the worlds of the gods,
There from Devaki took He name,
And of Vasudeva displayed a beauteous form. (3)

Then when He turned His will toward Gokul,
He laid His commands on Vasudeva:
Who brought Him away to the house of Nand:
There did they call Him the Son of Nand,- (4)

Born of the house of Vasudeva, become of the house of Nand,
Hid in the hold of the Yadus amidst the milkmaid host."
Many a lad went grazing cows in the woods with Krishna-

Hearken, good men, and lend me your ears, let the lover recite
the "TAKING 0F TOLL." (5)

From every house the women of Braja
The sellers of milk and curd-
Assembled infere, and all were agreed,
To take their way to the banks of the Jamuna. (6)

Now there was Mohana grazing the cows,
And played on the flute a melting air:
And whosoever went that way
Was filled with joy by the sound of the pipe. (7)

When all were come to the river brink
They saw before them the Lord of the Yadus:
Then one of the lads cried out aloud
“Know ye Him not, ye milkmaid band? (8)

Herdsmaids, know not that Krishna is Lord of the Ferry?
Come ye nigh and make submission; these are rainy days:
Lend me your ears, hearken, proud milkmaids,
where may ye go to avoid ShrI Krishna?
Render the toil as a free-will offering, be ye meek." (9)

This when they heard, everyone laughed:
”Tis to-day we learn of the taking of toll!
What we are and whence we come
Does not Han know full well?" (10)

“All ye are the Braja women of Gokula,
And you the daughter of Brishabhanu,
And are bearing curd on your heads:
I am the keeper of Jamuna-ferry: (11)

Somewhat of toll I have to exact
(Heart-ensnarer spoke with a srnile) ,---
Hearken all good Braja women,
Now must toll be taken." (12)

“In all Three Worlds t’was never known
that Jamuna’s bank was a customs-house,
Or going or corning, in thicket or wood
the milkmaids might be hindered:
Are we to render toll unto Lala,
decked as he is with a mass of diamonds and pearls?
Thinking yourself the Son of Nand,
never be haughty with us!" (13)

Then they surrounded the milkmaid band:
"Ha! what is this you have in your bowl?"
Some stretched hands to take the curd-
Then mischief spread on every side: (14)

One of the milkmaids was filled with anger--
“Why hast thou set this custom a-going, O Lord?"
One of the lads cried out upon her:
"Are you not even yet made wise?" (15)

"Whatever Thou wilt, take curd as a gift,
But do not establish the custom of tax, O Lord.
If ever Kams-Raj should hear of this,
He will send to imprison Father Nand: (16)
If ever the master of Mathura hears of this,
He will let be beaten both Thee and us. (17)

We are ever wont to come and go on the Madhupuri road,
Why hast Thou never before exacted toll?
If Thou wouldst have some curd and whey
from the helpless daughter of Brishabhanu,
Do not establish this unknown law in the kingdom of Kams, O Lord,--
In Nanda’s house the milk is flowing,
harm will follow, Thy body will waste." (18)

Then one of the milkmaids spake as follows :
"Speak with us, Lord of the Triple Worlds.”
"Behold in Me the Triple Spheres,
Know that I am very God: (19)

I have destroyed all of the demons
What of avail is this wretched Kams?
On this same Kams ye base your pride-
Whom Death has ground to dust. (20)

Now Ugrasen is become the king,
And I am become your protector:
Avaunt! and do not bandy words with Me,
But render the tax with a smile. (21)

He that is praised in the Veds and Puranss may work as he will,
But he that is weak and leans on others may fear Kans.
Lo, ye women, how is your gear splashed with curd!
Crowns of gold with rubies, and diamonds set and countless pearls. (22)

Many a row of pearls is gleaming,
Many an ankilt tinkling,
Many a wreath of gems on a neck,
Diarnonds and rubies threaded fair! (23)

A slender waist is decked with bells,
Heart-ensnaring the ring in a nose!
Heavy tresses braided well
Where strings of jewels are woven in. (24)

Beautiful rubies swing in your ears,
Bracelets yield delight:
Here there is worn a silken robe,
There are the folds that make it fair. (25)

Weigh this well in your hearts, O milkmaids, and hear Me:
The jewels may be looted on the homeward forest way,
for who is there by your side?
Render the toll, ye fair ones, O never be stiff with Me,
I am nothing afraid of Kans."
Hearing this the milkmaids trernbled, (26)

They took one bracelet and gave it up,
Making this prayer to Hari:
“Take some lesser gift, O Lord,
Now let all of us pass across." (27)

Then all a-flutter they rose together
As twilight fell : but after this fashion
One of the herdsmen played a trick,--
He secretly went and hid the boat. (28)

Another went up to Krishna and said,
"Where do they keep the boat, my Lord?"
When this they heard, the milkmaids laughed,
And then the trick was known to all: (29)

When Krishna all had made to understand,
“Now where rnay ye get another boat? (30)

The bank is steep and deep the Jamuna,
who may take that way at night?
Tigers and lions and robbers walk the woods,
and who shall be your helper ?
When ye have told Me all,
when ye have slept, then go by day—
Nowhere any refuge, no one by your side,
bethink ye what an end!" (31)

Hearing that, they all obeyed:
"Shameful life in the world, we wot,
Each and all is most unblest,
We have not loved Thy lotus feet, (32)

Shame on life and shame on kin,
Worthless life is ours become:
Grant us refuge now at Thy feet, O Lord,
Take Thou toll of body and soul and goods. (33)

Now the night is fallen dark,
Do not leave us, Lord Murari:
Thy slender waist is decked with bells,
Heart-ensnaring the ring in Thy nose! (34)

Let our birth bear fruit at last,
we lie at the feet of Hari-ji:
Honour of kin have the milkmaids cast away,
from birth to birth yet served Thee not."

Filled with delight they mingled with Mohan,
their gems and jewels shone like lamps,
And then was Krishna with Radha enlaced,
the milkmaids sported in the glades and groves: (35)

In every ring the Lord was found,
Every milkmaid’s heart consented,
Some brought scent and some brought incense,
Some fulfilled the Vedic rites: (36)

While Radha fed His mouth with pan,
Another waved the fan above His head! (37)

Some beat time and some the drum,
Some did chant the evensong,-
With many a song and dance and honeyed word
To celebrate the General Dance: (38)

Wherever a lad with a damsel dallied,
There were Radha and Krishna mated.

Whoever receives Rajendra’s grace,
For him is severed the sorrow of endless births: (39)

By the name of Radha-Shyrana nonpareil in the world,
is achieved the crossing of life’s wide sea.
Whoso chants the "taking of toll," severs the sorrow of endless births:
Whoso chants the "taking of toll," or hears or tells or takes to heart,
He wins a home in Vishnu’s heaven,
he wins the fruit of a myriad sacrificial offerings. (40)



Dana-lila, literally, “the play of the toll.”

1-4. Krishna, the eighth Avatara of Vishnu, is known by many :other names; Hari; Mohana, Murari, Lala, the Son of Nand, Lord of the Gopis, Lord of Braj and so forth. He was born in Mathura, his father being Vasudeva his mother Devaki; in order to avoid the Herodian hatred of Kans, the king of Mathur (who is the lord of this world, and represents Division) he was removed by his father to Brindaban (Braja, Gokula) and brought up amongst the Yadus, in the house of Nand and Yashod, his foster-parents.

II, 2. “the womb of a world,” brahmanda, “Brahma’s egg,” a world system such as ours consisting of the Sun and Planets. It is meant that Krishna is not merely the Ishvara of our systern, but the absolute Brahrna, as stated in the next line.

II, 3. Saraguna niraguna, possessed of ah qualities, yet unconditioned.

III, 3, 4. “name and form, just as the carol quoted in the Introduction speaks of fleshly substance and man’s nature. Then Krishna made Himself as they were, that they might be as He is: afterwards He stands upon His dignity.

IX, 2. “rainy days.” In Indian poetry emotional states are represented as affected by seasonal changes. It is in the rainy season that the misery of separated lovers is felt most bitterly. "The sky roars and the lightning flashes, the waves arise in my heart, The rain falls; and my heart longs for my Lord."- Kabir.

XI, 2. “you,” i.e. Radha.

XVII, 3. The texts read mata, for which I have ventured to substitute natha.

VII, 4. The Flute of Krishna is the voice of the Infinite which calls the soul away from the manifold to seek the One.

XIX, 4. Lit. “Do not write Us down as man.” As Sukadev-ji says to Raja Parikshit "you do not understand this mystery, but regard God as human." (Prema Sagara, Ch. XXXIV). This is in no way counter to the statement elsewhere made that the milkmaids loving Krishna as a human playmate, and not knowing Him as God, nevertheless attained salvation, for there is a wide difference between presumptuous denial and loving ignorance.

XXIII, i. motina ma»ga refers to the string of pearls worn on the parting of the hair, as in Indian Drawings II, Plate i.

XXXV, 2. They have done lip-service only.

XXXV, 4 Some texts read yûtha for gûntha, in this case we should translate: “Then Krishna, Radha and the milkmaid host disported in the glades and groves.”

XXXVI. “ring,” referring to the circular dances. Râsa is from rasa; “aggregate”; mandala, means a circle.

XXXIX, 1,2; Like Kabir: "All the men and women of the world are His living forms."

XXXIX, 3. Lit. “gave him pan (betel leaf, etc.) to eat.”

XL, 3. “By the name of;” lit. taking.
4. “life’s wide sea,” lit. “the ocean of name and being.”