In an exemplary prayer, Srila Rupa Goswami shows us
how to pray to Srimati Radharani and what to ask for.
how to pray to Srimati Radharani and what to ask for.
ye me bhakta -janah partha
na me bhaktas ca te janah
mad-bhaktanam ye bhaktas
te me bhaktatama matah
O Arjuna, son of Prtha, those who claim to be my devotees directly are not really my devotees. Rather, those who are the devotees of my devotees, I consider to be my greatest devotees. (Adi Purana (quoted in Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 11.28 )
KRSNA CONSCIOUSNESS is a social process. As with the relationships of this world, deeply loving Krsna entails loving those He loves, His devotees. And as Krsna's statement above makes clear, to become His devotee we must not approach Him directly but through these devotees. In this mood Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura in the late nineteenth century wrote a song in glorification of Vaisnavas, the devotees of Lord Visnu or Krsna. He sang, krsna se tamara, krsna dite para, tamara sakati ache: "That Krsna is yours; you can give Krsna. Such power is yours."
Of all of Krsna's devotees, Radharani is supremely exalted. She is no ordinary mortal like you or I, but is the embodiment of His personal pleasure potency. Although distinct and able to engage in loving devotional service to Krsna, Sri Radha is in fact identical to Him. He is the Supreme God; She, the Supreme Goddess. Krsna is the Lord of Vrndavana, the spiritual world, and Radha is its queen. Thus She is known as Srimati Radharani, "the illustrious Queen Radha." Together, Radha and Krsna constitute the complete Absolute Truth.
Radharani's devotion to Krsna reaches the pinnacle of perfection. As finite souls we cannot even aspire to love and serve Krsna as perfectly as She does; our perfection lies in assisting Her in Her loving service to Krsna. The power of Her love is indeed so intense that it subjugates Krsna. Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.32.22) records Krsna's response to the loving service of Radha and Her companions: na paraye 'ham .. . sva-sadhu-krtyam … vah: "I am not able to repay you."
Krsna is thus submissive to Her wishes, and as Srila Prabhupada writes, "Once She recommends a devotee to Lord Krsna, the Lord at once accepts the devotee's admittance into His association." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.3.23, Purport) So it is not surprising that Rupa Goswami, a great Vai~nava theologian and poet of the sixteenth century, composed a number of poems as prayers to Srimati Radharani
A UNIQUE PRAYER
The titles given to most of Rupa Goswami's poems, such as Sriradhasaka (literally, A Poem of Eight Stanzas About the Illustrious Radha) are simple and descriptive. One title, however, stands out as noteworthy: Prarthana-paddhati (The Guide for Petitioning) [See sidebar pg. 11]. In composing this poem, he not only expressed his own personal devotional sentiments, but provided a perfect example of sp iritual petitionary prayer for us to follow. The prayer is exemplary in many ways: in its structure, its form, its mood, and the object prayed for.
Prarthana-paddhati is short and sweet, only seven stanzas long. Although "short and sweet" is something of a cliche, in the context of petitionary prayers it is of profound importance, for when requesting charity or favours, brevity is often equated with brusqueness. But in Rupa Goswami's poem, the appeal is not made until the fifth verse, a little more than halfway through the poem. Before this, Rupa Goswami poetically praises Radha:, buttering Her up, so to speak, before presenting his petition. Devotees praying to the Lord or His associates for mercy should follow Rupa Goswami's example, beginning their prayer with words of praise and glorification.
The first four stanzas of Prarthana-paddhati consist simply of eleven poetic descriptions of Radha:, each syntactically in apposition to the direct object of the fifth stanza. The effect of this structure, though difficult to reconstruct in English translation, leaves the person hearing this prayer in suspense as to the basic idea being conveyed; the reader's attention is left simply to contemplate these wondrous description of Radha:. For example, the first two stanzas read:
"With limbs more golden than pure gold, with beautiful eyes like those of a doe, and with lips that conquer millions of moons; covered with garments that are like rain clouds. An ornamental jasmine atop a braided bun amongst the young cowherd girls; whose bodily beauty is enhanced by celestial gems and other ornaments."
These verses also show the ideal form of a prayer, that is, a form filled with poetic embellishments (alankaras). Sanskrit literary critics divide alankaras into two main divisions: embellishments of sound (sabdalankaras) and embellishments of meaning (arthalankaras). (See Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila 16.72-86.) Although content is more important than form, the Lord and His devotees recognize the devotion behind trying to offer prayers full of poetic beauty. When used to describe a mundane object, such poetic devices simply result in flowery language; but when the beauty of poetry is used to portray the transcendental beauty of the Lord and His devotees, its purpose is true.
Here we see in particular the sabdalankara of a lliteration (anuprasa) with repeated ng in the first half of the first verse, repeated mb in the second half, and repeated ll in the first half of the second verse, with less obvious examples throughout the poem. These lines are also filled with arthalankaras in the form of various types of metaphors and similes that are both poetically and theologically significant.
For instance, the first line speaks of Radha as having limbs more golden than pure gold. This particular type of metaphor, wherein the subject of the comparison, here Radha:'s limbs, is not equated with but said to surpass the object of comparison, here gold, is called in Sanskrit vyatireka, distinction. A standard example might say that a woman's face is more beautiful than a lotus flower. Here however, there seems to be an incoherency in saying that Radha's limbs are more golden than gold itself. After all, is the quality of "goldenness" not defined as an essential property of gold? To resolve this, we must remember that we are dealing here with the Supreme Goddess Herself. Radha:'s golden effulgence is the original goldenness. The material element we know of as gold simply borrows its name from Radha:, due to manifesting some miniscule portion of Her beautiful golden radiance. Rather than being an impossible exaggeration, Rupa Goswami's words express profound spiritual truth.
Likewise, the description that Radha is "covered with garments that are like rain clouds" suggests something much deeper than what it seems on the surface to be saying. In its primary sense, this is simply a description of the gray-blue color of Radha's clothing. However, the word for a rain cloud, ambuda, literally "a giver of water," here suggests a hidden meaning. Rather than giving forth ordinary water, Radharani's beauty brings about rasa, specifically prema-bhakti-rasa. The word rasa literally means juice, but in a poetic context refers to a transcendent emotion, and premabhakti- rasa means the emotion found in loving devotional service for the Lord.
In this world, there is a disconnectedness between ourselves and our bodies, what to speak of our clothes. The self is an eternal spirit soul, while the body is temporary and mortal. The physical beauty of the body has little to do with the nature of our true self: often people with hearts of gold have faces full of acne, and the most beautiful models can be self-centered and cruel-hearted. But for Krsna and His associates in the spiritual world, this is not the case. Krsna's body and those of His devotees in the spiritual world are not temporary material bodies, but spiritual bodies identical to their very selves. Thus, Radha's beauty is not some fortunate accident of nature, but a direct expression of the purity of Her love for Krsna. This extends even to Her clothing. The beauty of Her garments reveals the intensity of Her love and thus evokes this prema-bhakti-rasa.
Again, the description of Radha as "the ornamental jasmine atop a braided bun amongst the young cowherd girls," perhaps sounding curious to those not familiar with Sanskrit poetry, has various levels of meaning. Most simply, it is equivalent to the metaphor describing someone as the "crest jewel" within any particular category. Just as the most excellent jewel a king owns will be placed in the crest of his crown and thus physically occupy the highest Position among all of the king's jewelry, so a person described as the "crest jewel" within a given group is understood to be the most excellent and the topmost within that group. Here, by this parallel metaphor, Radha is described as the topmost of all the cowherd women In Vrndavana, the rural setting where Krsna, by His own sweet will , chooses ro manifest His loving relationships with His devotees. But rather than use a metaphor suited to the pomp of royalty, Radharani, the queen of Vrndavana, is compared to a jasmine flower, highlighting through its imagery Her sweetness, beauty, and feminine delicacy.
A PRAYER TO THE PRAISED
The fifth stanza resolves the syntactic tension of the first four stanzas; it finally becomes clear that the prayer addresses the person being described, and the petition is made.
tvam asau yacate natva
"Bowing down, this person beseeches You with a stammering, pitiable cry, 0 Queen of Vrndavana, rolling on the ground on the bank of the Yamuna River with a troubled heart."
The following verse identifies the nature of the request , and we see here the exemplary nature of this prayer in its most important aspect. For what Rupa Goswami prays for is nothing other than the opportunity of devotional service to Radha. The petition is pure-hearted, not aiming at any selfish gratification. The mood in which this prayer is made is also to be emulated. Rupa Goswami exhibits deep humility, a meekness hinted at in the previous stanza by his referring to himself in the third person. Here he admits himself to be unqualified for the benediction he requests.
krtagaske 'py ayogye 'pi
jane 'smin kumatav api
lavam apy upapadaya
"Though he may be an unfit offender with a crooked mind, please bestow a small fragment of the valuable gift of Your service to this person."
His humble words h ere take the form of an arthalankara called visesokti, a statement of difference. It refers to a poetic statement in which one sees a mismatch between cause and effect. Here, the expected effect of his humility and self-acknowledged disqualification would be for him not to make such a bold request. And yet he does.
A MODEL PRAYER FOR US
The final stanza resolves this apparent incongruity. He shows one final exemplary quality in his prayer: persistence. In this last stanza, Rupa Goswami makes an argument to persuade Srimati Radharani to bestow Her mercy, regardless. But formal logic does not fit well with poetry. Thus, Rupa Goswami employs the arrhalankara called kavyalinga, poetic cause. All the elements of a causal formula are present in his words, but are hidden within his poetry.
yuktas tvaya jano naiva
duhkhito 'yam upeksitum
navanitasi yat sada
"Such a sorrowful person is not fit to be neglected by You, for Your mind, like fresh butter, always melts from the warmth of Your compassion."
Commenting on this stanza, Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana, the great Vaisnava theologian and poet of the eighteenth century, explains the logical argument implicit herein: "Since compassion (krpa) is the desire to take away the sorrow of others and I am full of sorrow, I am not fit to be abandoned."
Rupa Goswami has provided the perfect model for prayer. If we learn to pray to the Lord and His devotees with the same structure, beginning with words of praise; if we exhibit the same humble mood and the same persistence; and if we request the same most exalted of all benedictions, then our prayers will certainly be heard and answered. And even if we come nowhere close to the poetic sophistication of Rupa Goswami's prayer, the Lord will look with favour on even the humblest attempt to compose our prayers with a beauty that befits their object.
But Rupa Goswami has left the world more than a mere formula; he has also left us exquisite poetry. However feeble our own attempts at composing such prayers may be, we can always simply meditate deeply on the beauty of Rupa Goswami's descriptions of the Supreme Goddess, Radharani, and by offering Her this prayer wholeheartedly, we can be confident that She will look upon us with compassion.
Dvija-mani Dasa, a disciple of Ravindra Svarapa Dasa, is a Benjamin Franklin Doctoral Fellow in Sanskrit at the University of Pennsylvania (USA). He lives with his family at the Philadelphia ISKCON temple and is working with his guru on a translation, with commentary, of Raghunatha Dasa Goswami's Manah-siksa.