Rupa Goswami Biography:
According to tradition, Kumardev and Revatidevi had one daughter and five sons. Of these children, Sanatan, Rupa (1489-1564), and Ballabha were known as pure devotees. Their prestigious Saraswati Brahman ancestry had originally hailed from Karnataka, in South India, but Kumardev moved to Bakla-chandradvip (modern Barisal), near Ramasharai, in the Jessore district of East Bengal. This is where the three pious boys were raised. Scholars assert that Rupa and Sanatan were known in those days as Amara and Santosh, respectively. The names “Rupa” and “Sanatan” were given to them much later by Shri Chaitanya.
When they first met the Master, Rupa and Sanatan were working for the Muslim occupational government of Bengal under Nawab Hussein Shah, the then Emperor of Gauda. At that time, they were given the Persian titles Dabir Khas (“private secretary”) and Sakara Malik (“revenue officer”), and they enjoyed great wealth and prestige as political leaders in a growing regime.
Nonetheless, they were avid students of scripture and never forgot the lotus feet of the Lord. They were renowned throughout India for their vast learning and intense devotion, even before they met Shri Chaitanya. Rupa had already written several books on Vedic philosophy, including his now famous Hamsadutta, and Sanatan used to regularly recite Shrimad Bhagavatam, with tears of ecstasy, for all who would listen. Thus, an obvious question arises: Why would these two spiritually-minded brothers invest any of their valuable time in a mundane political career?
According to the Bhakti-ratnakara, they were conscripted into their governmental duties by Nawab Hussein Shah, who threatened them with physical expulsion as well as the murder of pious devotees. He had heard how much Rupa and Sanatan were loved by the common people and how they were known as raja-shishta (“the kings of learning”) due to their unprecedented proficiency in all scriptural knowledge. “If I could coerce them into my service,” the Nawab reasoned, “then I could more successfully win the support of the mass of people.”
To this end, the Nawab threatened to wreak havoc in the brahminical community. Fully confident that the power-hungry Nawab would indeed carry out his nefarious plan, Dabir Khas and Sakara Malik were virtually blackmailed into working under his Muslim rule. It is specifically described that because they had “fear of the uncivilized ruler” (mleccha-bhoya), they complied with his wishes.
It should be understood, however, that their fear was not self-motivated. Bhakti-ratnakara clearly asserts that they were more concerned about the Nawab’s threat of causing harm to the society of Vaishnavas. If they disobeyed, the repercussions would be horrendous. Consequently, they were forced to accept service under Hussein Shah. The Nawab, delighted by this conquest, bestowed great riches upon the two brothers as they dutifully performed their service.
Kumardev, their father, prayed for them, but deep within he knew that they were great devotees and that Krishna must have some plan. Dabir Khas and Sakara Malik themselves were concerned about their newfound occupations, and they corresponded with Shri Chaitanya, hoping that He would one day give them His association and that He might, perhaps, be able to resolve their dilemma.
Temporarily resigning themselves to their fate, they settled in Ramakeli, a village some eighteen miles southeast of Malda (in the Rajashahi district of northern Bengal). There they used their vast wealth to construct a replica of Shri Krishna’s abode — a “Hidden (gupta) Vrindavan” — complete with elaborate bathing places and constant readings about the pastimes of the Lord. In this way, they sought to alleviate their “sentence” of governmental employment.
As they studied and conveyed the scriptures to their Muslim colleagues, the two brothers became proficient in Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, as well as in other local dialects. It is said that they studied Sanskrit under the renowned Sarvananda Vidya-Vachaspati (Sarva-bhauma Bhattacharya’s brother) and that their knowledge of Arabic and Persian was acquired with the help of Syed Fakirud-Din, a reputed scholar and landowner in Saptagram. In this way, they spent their time in Ramakeli while externally (if also competently) carrying out state affairs.
Once, when Shri Chaitanya decided to go to Vrindavan (in 1514), He stopped at Ramakeli specifically to meet Dabir Khas and Sakara Malik. By this time, He was accompanied by thousands of followers, who were all chanting and dancing with Him. Hearing that He had arrived, the two brothers made plans to see Him. Being Muslim officials, they decided to go in the dead of night in order to remain unnoticed.
Passing through the throngs of dedicated devotees, they first met Nityananda Prabhu and Haridas Thakur, who immediately let Shri Chaitanya know of their arrival. The Master was overjoyed upon seeing His two eternal associates, and they, in turn, were overjoyed to see Him.
As a symbol of their humility, both brothers took bunches of straw and placed them between their teeth. Falling at Shri Chaitanya’s lotus feet, they cried with boundless joy. They were finally reunited with their Lord and savior, and they knew that He would now put an end to their predicament with Hussain Shah.
Getting up from the ground, Dabir Khas and Sakara Malik (their younger brother Ballabha was there as well) offered sincere prayers to Shri Chaitanya: “All glories to Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu! You are the most merciful savior of fallen souls. All glories to Your supreme personality!
“We belong to the lowest class of men,” they continued, “and our associates and employment are of the lowest type. Therefore we feel it strange to introduce ourselves to You. We are ashamed, for You are so pure. Dear Lord, let us assure You that no one is more sinful than us, nor is there any offender like us. Since You have specifically incarnated to deliver the fallen souls, please consider that there are none so fallen as the two of us, for we are worse than Jagai and Madhai.” In this way, the two brothers humbly presented themselves before Shri Chaitanya.
When they compared themselves to Jagai and Madhai, two of the most sinful recipients of the Lord’s mercy, Shri Chaitanya spoke to them: “You two brothers are my eternal servants. From this day, your names will be changed to Shri Rupa and Shri Sanatan. Now please abandon your humility, for My heart is breaking to see you so humble.” Shri Chaitanya thus initiated His two greatest followers into the path of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.
He continued: “You have written several letters showing your humility. I can understand your real level of advancement from those letters. Incidentally, I really had no business in Ramakeli – I have come here specifically for the two of you.” Assuring Rupa and Sanatan that their worldly engagement in the government of Hussein Shah would soon be coming to an end, he advised them to go home and to not worry about their future. Now that they had indeed surrendered, their future was in Krishna’s hands.
“Birth after birth,” Shri Chaitanya said, “you have been My eternal servants. I am sure that Krishna will deliver you very soon.” The Master then placed His two hands on their heads. Feeling humbled by this gesture, they bowed before Him and placed His feet, not His hands, on their heads. After this, Shri Chaitanya embraced them and requested all of the devotees to shower their blessings upon them.
Before leaving, Rupa and Sanatan expressed concern that Shri Chaitanya might continue on the road to Vrindavan. They cautioned Him that Hussein Shah, while respectful, was nonetheless concerned with his own political power and might cause harm to a powerful preacher of religion such as Shri Chaitanya, especially if he were to discover that his two best men would soon be leaving his service in favor of this preacher.
Seeing that this argument did not deter Shri Chaitanya, they reminded Him that it is improper etiquette for a sannyasi to travel to a holy place such as Vrindavan with a large retinue. This final consideration was enough to sway Him, and Shri Chaitanya soon returned to Puri. Of course, after several months, the Master again attempted to go to Vrindavan and He arrived there without incident.
Shri Rupa Goswami and his younger brother, Ballabha (who Shri Chaitanya named “Anupama”), were able to renounce the world at this time and live as travelling mendicants. Sanatan Goswami, on the other hand, was still bound by previous commitments within the Nawab’s administration. He therefore was not able to leave his official post at the same time as his enthusiastic younger brothers.
Travelling to Prayag (presentday Allahabad), Rupa and Anupama met Shri Chaitanya once again, for they were spreading His message in that district and He was now returning to Puri from His successful pilgrimage to Vrindavan. Taking advantage of the auspicious meeting, He instructed the two brothers for ten days regarding krishna-tattva, the ultimate truth about Shri Krishna; bhakti-tattva, the truth about deddvotion to Krishna; and rasa-tattva, the truth about transcendental loving relationships with Krishna.
As they approached Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, once again with superlative humility, they offered a memorable prayer:
namo maha-vadanyaya, krishna prema pradaya te
krishnaya-krishna-chaitanya, namne gaur-tvishe namaha
“O most munificent incarnation of the Lord! You are Krishna Himself appearing as Shri Chaitanya. You have assumed the golden color of Radharani, and you are freely distributing what no other incarnation has ever distributed – pure love of God.”
Being pleased with this prayer, Shri Chaitanya began to instruct Rupa and Anupama: “The ocean of spiritual relationships in regard to devotional service is so great that it is impossible to describe it completely. No one can estimate the length and breadth of this ocean. But just to help you appreciate its incalculable dimensions, I will share with you one drop.” He then proceeded to describe the nature of the soul with exacting detail, supporting His statements with references from the Vedic literatures.
Shri Chaitanya explained that the dimension of the spirit soul is very, very minute: one ten-thousandth the size of the tip of a hair. These infinitesimal living entities are unlimited in number and are of two types: moving and nonmoving. The moving entities are divided into human and nonhuman species, and the human species are further divided into civilized and uncivilized cultures. Those who follow spiritual principles, particularly as enunciated in Vedic culture, are counted as civilized. And among these there are many who are merely superficial practitioners.
Among the serious followers of spiritual culture, the majority are mostly interested in personal salvation at best (if they are not interested in downright materialistic pursuits that are merely candy-coated with spiritual flavor). Of these, Shri Chaitanya pointed out, it is a rare person indeed who is progressive enough to sincerely inquire into (and pursue) the ultimate goal of life. Out of many millions of such spiritually mature individuals, one may actually attain genuine salvation. And out of millions of these especially fortunate souls, very few ever reach the level of pure devotion.
Shri Chaitanya chose to elaborate on this very important point: As the unlimited living beings wander throughout the multifarious material universes, lifetime after lifetime in different species, they pursue a neverending quest for peace and happiness. At times they enjoy heavenly pleasures, and sometimes they suffer hellish miseries. If, however, a soul becomes one of the fortunate few, getting the opportunity to associate with a bonafide spiritual master (a pure devotee in disciplic succession), he at that time receives the coveted bhakti-lata-bija, or the seed of pure devotional service (which is then firmly rooted in his heart).
Rupa and Anupama were relishing these explanations, and so the Master elucidated further: Such a fortunate person, said Shri Chaitanya, must carefully tend the seed of devotion like a competent gardener. He must water it regularly with hearing and chanting about the glories of Shri Krishna. Gradually, the holy seed sprouts and the creeper of devotional service grows and grows, piercing the walls of our conditioned universe, catapulting such a person into the spiritual world.
When the soul who embodies the creeper of devotion finally arrives at Goloka Vrindavan, the highest abode of Shri Krishna, it produces abundant quantities of prema-phala, the fruits of divine love. These eternal gifts support the entire cosmic manifestation and are the only true pleasure-giving items, both for the living entity and for the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Rupa and Anupama were next warned that the candidate for pure devotional service, while cultivating the creeper of devotion, must be careful not to commit offenses to the Vaishnavas. Such offenses are compared to a mad elephant that uproots the devotional creeper, causing it to suffocate and die. The spiritual gardener must learn to protect his devotional creeper from the madelephant offense.
Shri Chaitanya elaborated upon another possible danger on the path of devotion: Weeds of material desires may grow alongside the devotional creeper. The subtle and gross varieties of such weeds are unlimited, and the gardener must be careful not to nourish them while watering his devotional creeper. As Rupa Goswami and Anupama listened to this “devotional creeper” analogy, their own spiritual understanding seemed to blossom.
Shri Chaitanya also used a “sugar” analogy to further explain the progressive levels of prema, unalloyed love of God. First comes the seed of the sugarcane and then the sugarcane plant. From the plant, one can extract the sweet juice of the sugarcane. When this juice is boiled, it becomes liquid molasses and, when cooked more, it becomes solid molasses. This molasses then becomes sugar and, finally, rock candy. In this way sugar gradually develops from a crude state to one that is refined. Similarly, love of God evolves through carefully delineated stages, each more concentrated than the last.
Scientifically elaborating upon every one of these stages, using complex Sanskrit terminology, Shri Chaitanya next explained to the two brothers how pure love culminates in self realization and how one begins to reestablish himself in his original relationship with Krishna. These relationships (rasa-tattva) exist in five primary forms: shanta-rati, neutral appreciation of the Lord; dasya-rati, attachment in servitude; sakhya-rati, attachment in friendship; vatsalya-rati, attachment in parental affection; and madhurya-rati, attachment in conjugal love. This rasa theory was later systematized by Rupa Goswami in Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu and developed even further in Ujjvala-nilamani.
Shri Chaitanya next explained to Rupa and Anupama that attachment to Krishna is either in awe and reverence or in pure, spontaneous love. This discussion was similar in content to His conversations with Vyenkata Bhatta, the father of Gopal Bhatta Goswami. Attachment in awe and reverence, He said, is found in all the spiritual planets throughout the kingdom of God.
However, there is one exception, and Shri Chaitanya was quick to point this out. That exception is in Goloka Vrindavan, the topmost spiritual planet. On other spiritual levels, the opulences of the Lord are prominent, and devotional service in neutrality and servitude predominates. But in Goloka Vrindavan the prominent relationships with Shri Krishna are the fraternal, the parental, and the conjugal — intimate relationships that are actually impeded by feelings of awe and reverence. The devotees of Goloka experience the Lord’s unlimited opulence, but they are not awed by it, because their emphasis is on a natural, spontaneous loving relationship with Krishna.
Each successive stage of love is symptomized by its having all the qualities of the preceding stages plus an increase in feelings of intimacy with the Lord. Servitude, for example, includes neutrality, and fraternal attachment includes elements of both neutrality and servitude. Unlike servitude and neutrality, however, fraternity is generally devoid of formality and veneration, at least on the more intimate levels. The same is true for parental and conjugal love.
Devotees situated in parental loving attachment, in addition to having sentiments of neutrality, servitude, and friendship, also may think of themselves as the Lord’s maintainers. This in fact holds an especially sweet taste for Krishna as He allows His devotee to take an extremely responsible position. At this point, He trusts them unlimitedly, and he places Himself in their care without reservation.
All four relationships mentioned above culminate in the relationship of conjugal love. Here, fundamental attachment for Krishna, service to Him, the intimate feelings of fraternity, and the matured conception of maintenance all increase in intensity, and romantic love reigns supreme. The reader should be warned, however, that the “love” under discussion is not the type to which we are accustomed in the world of birth and death. Spiritual love as described by Shri Chaitanya is devoid of carnality, superficiality, and impermanence — the hallmark qualities of “love” in the material sphere. By contrast, the conjugal rasa is completely spiritual, profoundly deep, and it is eternal. This level of divine love is so exalted that Shri Chaitanya told Rupa and Anupama that it cannot be fully described. Nonetheless, all three enjoyed great spiritual ecstasy as they touched upon this topic and, later, Shri Rupa was given the title “Rasacharya” to acknowledge his expertise in the area of rasa theology.
Shri Chaitanya thus concluded His instructions to Rupa and Anupama, saying: “I have simply given you a general overview of the truths of devotional service. You can consider how to adjust and expand upon this. When one thinks of Krishna constantly, love for Him is manifest within the heart. Even though one may be ignorant, by the mercy of Shri Krishna and His empowered representatives one can reach the shore of the ocean of spiritual love.”
After these ten days together, Rupa and Anupama did not want to leave the Master’s side. They accompanied Him as far as Benares and begged to proceed on to Puri. But Shri Chaitanya asked them to first visit Vrindavan and then later meet with Him in Puri after passing through Bengal. In obedience to their Master’s request, the two brothers went to Vrindavan and, after a short stay, decided it was time to meet Him in Puri. On the way, Anupama departed this world. It was while traveling to Puri that Rupa Goswami first conceived of dramatic playwriting as a viable means to convey the pastimes of Krishna. Preparing a basic outline for such plays, he wrote a rough draft for a drama about Krishna’s activities as a cowherd boy in Vrindavan and as a king in Dwaraka. Soon after beginning this work, Rupa arrived in a village known as Satyabhamapur (in Orissa). That evening, he had a dream in which a beautiful woman appeared and asked him to write a separate play about her. The next morning he realized that she was Krishna’s queen, Satyabhama, asking him to write two separate plays: one about the Lord’s pastimes in Vrindavan and one about those in Dwaraka.
When Rupa Goswami finally reached Puri, he showed the basic outline for his two dramas to Shri Chaitanya, who reaffirmed that there is a vast difference between Krishna’s Vrindavan pastimes and those at Dwaraka, and that it is proper to describe them in two different dramas. Vrindavan pastimes display the Lord’s intimate madhurya feature, whereas the majestic Dwaraka pastimes are characteristic of His aishvarya feature. To combine them would be an inappropriate mixing of rasas.
Chaitanya-charitamrita describes the great delight of Shri Chaitanya and Ramananda Raya in reading the early drafts of Rupa Goswami’s work. But it should be stated here that the books were not finished until years later. The Vrindavan pastimes were completed in 1532 and called Vidagdha Madhava. The Dwaraka episode of Krishna’s life was completed in 1546 and was called Lalita Madhava. These two are today regarded by Gaudiya Vaishnavas as the most important dramatic literatures in the Sanskrit language.
Before describing the work of Rupa Goswami at length, it is significant to note that he stayed with Shri Chaitanya for ten months in Puri and received further instruction from Him on the science of Krishna consciousness. Then, after hearing from Shri Chaitanya that he should go to the holy land of Vrindavan and unearth the hidden holy places, establish prominent temples, and write books on the philosophy that He had taught him, Shri Rupa left to fulfill the mission of his Master.
Passing through Bengal, he was delayed for a full twelve months. Feeling that his renunciation of the world might inconvenience his family and relatives, Shri Rupa decided to divide his wealth among them and in this way give them a sense of security. In addition, he gave vast portions of his wealth to the brahminical community and temples of Bengal. The legalities must have taken time because it was not until a year later that he arrived in Vrindavan.
Although it has been the subject of controversy, it has been asserted that shortly after he arrived, Shri Rupa Goswami established a Deity of Vrindadevi, a goddess who “not only bore the town’s name, but was considered an incarnate aspect of Krishna as well.” In fact, Vrindadevi is known as the proprietor of Vrindavan and is an incarnation of a gopi from the shakhi category. Figuring prominently into Krishna’s daily play (ashta-kaliya-lila) and the writings of the Six Goswamis, she is a very intimate associate of Krishna. Historian F.S. Growse states that the Deity was originally located at presentday Seva-kunj, near Vrindavan’s center. Tradition holds, however, that the Deity of Vrindadevi originally stood at the site that would later support the temple of Rupa Goswami’s Govindadev Deity. Today, this Deity of Vrindadevi can be found at the Madan-mohan temple (not to be confused with the temple of Sanatan Goswami) in Kamyavan (western Vraja).
Carrying out Shri Chaitanya’s desire was difficult at first, and Shri Rupa lamented his inability to do so. Lokanath and Bhugarba were sent to Vrindavan much earlier, but they did not win a good deal of support. Thus, while sitting on the banks of the Yamuna River, Rupa thought about the difficult task that lay before him. Just then, a young boy approached and asked the reason for his despondency. He told the boy of his mission to revive Vrindavan as a Vaishnava place of pilgrimage and as a headquarters of the movement. Further, he informed the boy of his mission to build wonderful temples for the worship of Radha and Krishna, and to establish a scholastic and literary community for the production of a systematic theology.
After hearing Shri Rupa’s elaborate explanation, the young boy gestured that he should follow him, and he led Shri Rupa to a small hill. “Inside,” he told the Goswami, “is the magnificent Deity of Govindadev, established almost five thousand years earlier by Shri Krishna’s great grandson Vajra. During one of the Muslim invasions, villagers had buried the Deity in this hill to prevent His destruction, but the Deity was subsequently lost.
“Every day,” the boy continued, “a large cow comes by this place and showers her milk all over the hill. In this way, it seeps through and Govindadev relishes His daily meal.” After describing this miraculous story to Shri Rupa Goswami, the young boy disappeared. Somewhat skeptical, Rupa came to that same spot the next morning, just to see if a cow did arrive to shower its milk throughout the area. To his surprise, a cow indeed came and the event transpired just as the young boy had told him. Excited, Rupa called several local villagers to excavate this site, for he was now convinced that the Govindadev Deity was buried there. After great effort, they finally found the Deity and, under Rupa Goswami’s direction, became enthusiastic to erect a temple and begin proper worship. The Vrindavanites were grateful that Rupa Goswami had initiated this search for Govindadev and soon became his staunch followers. Rupa then sent news to Puri that his mission in Vrindavan was underway, and after hearing of this Shri Chaitanya happily sent Kashishwar Pandit and others to assist him.
Under the patronage of the famed Emperor Akbar, a temple was soon constructed, although it was not completed until 1590 (as the temple inscription says) or as late as 1593, some years after Rupa Goswami departed this world. The building of this temple, however, marked great success for the mission of Rupa Goswami, who even convinced the powerful Maharaja Man Singh of Amber (Jaipur) to donate huge quantities of red sandstone and to eventually become a noteworthy disciple (although some say that he was actually a disciple of Raghunath Bhatta Goswami — but even in this regard there is a controversy). The devotees and their temples flourished during the many years of building the Govindadev temple.
Much later, in the early eighteenth century during a Muslim invasion led by the tyrant Aurangzeb, the temple was destroyed and the Deity, for protection, was moved to Jaipur (where He is presently being worshiped). Of the original sevenstorey Govindadev temple, the upper storeys were completely obliterated. Only the huge, cruciform maha-mandap remains intact. This remaining monument, however, has an elevation that is equal to several storeys in its own right, containing open arcades and a vaulted dome composed of intersecting, pointed arches.
In design, the Govindadev temple, with its accentuated angles and openings, has been glorified as an innovation in the field of temple architecture. Historians and experts in architectural development have described it as “the most interesting and elegant edifice that Hindu India has ever produced at least in Upper India and the only one perhaps from which a European architect might even borrow a few hints.”
If Shri Rupa’s temple was a testimony to his dedication and devotion, his literary activity was even more so. Chaitanya-charitamrita specifically mentions that Shri Chaitanya empowered the Goswami for this massive endeavor. Consequently, he compiled many huge volumes, of which sixteen are considered most important. In all, he wrote at least 100,000 verses! The more famous works include Vidagdha Madhava, Lalita Madhava, Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, Ujjvala-nilamani, Upadeshamrita, Dana-keli-kaumudhi, and Laghu Bhagavatamrita. Several of these works are outlined as follows.
As stated earlier, his two dramas, Vidagdha Madhava and Lalita Madhava, deal with Krishna’s pastimes in Vrindavan and Dwaraka, respectively. The inner guidelines and esoteric rasas for these dramas were divulged by Shri Chaitanya Himself when, at the house of Chandrashekhar Acharya, He acted in dramatic performances for the pleasure of the devotees. These dramas have been detailed by Shri Chaitanya’s authorized biographers and they served as inspirations for Rupa Goswami in the writing of his own dramas.
As stated, Vidagdha Madhava portrays the intimate pastimes of Radha and Krishna in Vrindavan. According to Rupa Goswami, the divine couple are assisted in their rendezvous by Paurnamasi, who acts throughout as a dedicated servant. The primary theme of the play centers around a fundamental concern that Radharani’s husband might spirit Her away from Shri Krishna, thus creating a serious obstacle to their union. In addition, Chandravali tries to compete with Radharani for Krishna’s affections. The drama thus enables one to experience the inner turbulence of an otherwise blissful conjugal rasa. It nonetheless reassures its audience of the ultimate victory that is quite inevitable in spiritual relationships. The entire play is complete in seven acts.
The Lalita Madhava has been briefly summarized by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada as follows:
Lalita Madhava is a description of Krishna’s pastimes in Dwaraka. These pastimes were made into a drama, and the work was finished in the year 1459 Shakabda [1546 A.D.]. The first part deals with festivities in the evening, the second with the killing of the Shankha-chuda, the third with maddened Shrimati Radharani, the fourth with Radharani’s proceeding toward Krishna, the fifth with the achievement of Chandravali, the sixth with the achievement of Lalita, the seventh with the meeting in Nava-Vrindavan, the eighth with the enjoyment in Nava-Vrindavan, the ninth with looking over pictures, and the tenth with complete satisfaction of the mind. Thus the entire drama is divided into ten parts.
In regard to these two dramas, Chaitanya-charitamrita says: “Shrila Rupa Goswami compiled two important dramas named Vidagdha Madhava and Lalita Madhava, from which one can understand all the mellows derived from the pastimes of Lord Krishna.” This is no small claim, but Gaudiya Vaishnavas from the time of the Six Goswamis to the present day implicitly accept that conclusion.
Perhaps even more important than these two dramas, however, are Rupa Goswami’s Bhakti-rasa-mrita-sindhu and his Ujjvala-nilamani. About these, Chaitanya-charitamrita declares: “Shrila Rupa Goswami wrote many books, the most famous of which is Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu. From that book one can understand the essence of devotional service to Krishna and the transcendental mellow one can derive from such service. Shrila Rupa Goswami also compiled an important book named Ujjvala-nila-mani, from which one can understand, to the fullest limits, the loving affairs of Shri Shri Radha and Krishna.” It is in these books that he develops his Bhakti-rasa-shastra for the benefit of all mankind.
In comparing these latter two works to the two dramas, David Haberman has this to say:
When we come to the rasa theory of Rupa Goswamin.we find ourselves in an entirely different context. For Rupa there is only one drama that can produce true rasa — the divine play of Krishna. When the analysis shifts to a single drama, which is held to be Ultimate Reality itself, significant changes result. The emphasis for Rupa is not on the ability of generic drama to lift one out of everyday experience; rather, he is deeply concerned with the means by which one may participate in the one Real Drama. For the true Gaudiya Vaishnava, salvation comes to be defined as an eternal participation in this absolute drama.
Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, indeed, is a scientific analysis of just how to participate in the eternal drama of spiritual life. In it, Rupa Goswami clearly defines the gradual development of bhakti-rasa, from the most practical stage of Vaidhi-bhakti-sadhana (following basic rules and regulations) to Raganuga-bhakti-sadhana, wherein one learns to follow in the footsteps of Shri Krishna’s pure and transcendental associates – the inhabitants of the spiritual world (One follows in these footsteps with the express purpose of gaining entrance into the Divine Kingdom). This is again nicely articulated by Haberman:
To experience bhakti-rasa, the bhakta [“the devotee”] moves onto the stage of the drama which transforms the world. In Rupa’s religious system, Krishna becomes the bhakta’s dramatic partner; He is the hero (nayaka) of the ultimate play. The individual bhakta relates to him personally by dramatically taking a part in that play. The whole world, or at least all of Vraj (which, from the correct spiritual perspective, amounts to the same thing), becomes a stage on which to act out one’s part; thus religion becomes drama and acting becomes a way of salvation. Rupa needed a dramatic theory to describe his religious system, and such a theory was readily available. Utilizing the components of Bharata’s rasa theory, Rupa was able to express his interpretation of bhakti with added sophistication.
This is all true enough, but it should be pointed out here that just as the rasa theory did not originate with Shri Rupa, it did not originate with Bharata Muni either. Its origin is not, as some would have us believe, constricted to mere aesthetic theory or dramatic language. The concept of rasa is eternal, as is any aspect of the Absolute Truth, and it can be found in the earliest portions of the Vedic literature.
Taittiriya Upanishad (11.7), for example, emphatically declares: “Raso vai saha,” showing that transcendental relationship (rasa) has always been an integral part of spiritual understanding. The best modern scholarship asserts that the rasa theory did not begin in Bharata’s Natya-shastra and that it was never “specifically restricted to aesthetic experience. It has spiritual, metaphysical and metaphorical overtones.”
Gradually, Bharata Muni incorporated these ideas into his Natya-shastra and, yes, it was eventually utilized by Rupa Goswami, at least in terms of basic terminology. Just as Bharata Muni describes twelve rasas — five primary and seven secondary — so, too, does Rupa Goswami. But this is as far as the comparison goes. The Goswami develops it into a complicated spiritual science, and this is reflected in his Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu. At present, there is no good English edition of this work, but The Nectar of Devotion by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is an excellent summary study.
Ujjvala-nilamani picks up where Bhakti-rasa-mrita-sindhu leaves off. The contents of this spiritual classic are briefly but eloquently summarized by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada:
There is also a book called Ujjvala-nilamani, a transcendental account of loving affairs that includes metaphor, analogy, and other higher bhakti sentiments. Devotional service in conjugal love is described briefly in Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, but it is very elaborately discussed in Ujjvala-nilamani. This book describes different types of lovers, their assistants, and those who are very dear to Krishna. There is also a description of Shrimati Radharani and other female lovers, as well as various group leaders. Messengers and the constant associates, as well as others who are very dear to Krishna, are all described. The book also relates how love of Krishna is awakened and describes the ecstatic situation, the devotional situation, permanent ecstasy, disturbed ecstasy, steady ecstasy, different positions of different dresses, feelings of separation, prior attraction, anger in attraction, varieties of loving affairs, separation from the beloved, meeting with the beloved, and both direct and indirect enjoyment between the lover and the beloved. All of this has been very elaborately described.
In this, his most developed work, Rupa Goswami clearly articulates the various levels of divine love. Madhuryarati, love of God, may in fact manifest in any of the five rasas, but it is especially developed in the conjugal rasa. It is consequently this particular relationship that is the focus of Ujjvala-nilamani. Briefly, the various levels of divine love are delineated as follows: After the rigors of Vaidhi-bhakti-sadhana and Raganuga-bhakti-sadhana, the heart is given to the Lord in full devotion and one becomes reinstated in one’s eternal relationship with Him. This is preman, which is more clearly defined as the matured bond of loving emotions (bhava-bandana) between man and God.
Experienced in various stages, preman may be fully developed (praudha), middling (madhya), or slight (manda). Each level leads to the next and culminates in sneha, which refers to a total melting of the heart. Just as one produces clarified butter (or ghee) by boiling out all of the impurities, sneha is that level where the heart melts like butter out of intense affection for Krishna.
After this comes mana, or the extremely advanced level wherein one may actually feel a sense of indignation from unfulfilled affection. This is a “love-trick” that Krishna plays on His devotees, invariably increasing their attachment for Him.
This leads to pranaya, a loving closeness in which one wishes to take Krishna into his exclusive confidence. No one else will do. Exclusive loving devotion to Krishna is clearly visible on this level and can lead to the highest platform of ecstasy.
From here one graduates to raga, or “full attachment,” and from there to anuraga, or “more refined attachment.” This, then, leads to bhava, or “total ecstasy.” Above this level is the exalted maha-bhava. But this esoteric position is mainly experienced by Radharani and the inner circle of gopis. This is unlimited love and is generally beyond the reach of a limited soul.
Of the five rasas – shanta, dasya, sakhya vat-salya, and madhurya – it is said that shanta can lead to prema; dasya up to raga; sakhya and vatsalya up to anuraga; and madhurya alone can lead to maha-bhava, the most perfect stage of love. Madhurya is further divided into rudha and adhirudha, of which the former is experienced by the wives of Krishna (svakiya), while the latter is experienced by the gopis of Vraja, who are not married to Krishna (parakiya). Thus adhirudha is that highest manifestation of mahabhava and can only be experienced by personalities such as Radhika, Mahaprabhu, and perhaps several others of the inner circle. In this way, Ujjvala-nilamani thoroughly outlines the science of rasa and the successive levels of divine love.
In fact, Rupa Goswami is so meticulous in his dissertation that a serious student of his work can come to know his own relationship with Krishna just by studying and practicing according to the Goswami’s able direction. Rupa Goswami explains how one’s original dominant feeling for Lord Krishna (sthayi-bhava) is “uncovered” or again raised to its state of relish by means of the appropriate “excitants” (vibhavas), “ensuants” (anubhavas), “bodily expressions” (sattvika-bhavas), and “auxiliary feeling” (vyabhichari- or sanchari-bhavas). What all this means, very simply, is that, as one becomes advanced in Krishna consciousness, one can recognize various signs that harken back to his original relationship with Krishna. For example, hearing about Krishna and the gopis themselves are the substantial excitants (alambana vibhava), while the sound of the flute and various other “external” paraphernalia are the enhancing excitants (uddipana vibhava). The ensuants (anubhava) may consist of certain sidelong glances and smiles, for instance, which bring back remembrance of Krishna, while the sattvika-bhavas generally refer to the eight bodily transformations, such as profuse crying and hair standing on end. The vyabhichari-bhavas include all emotions that enhance one’s relationship with Krishna, the only exceptions being haughtiness (ugrata) and idleness (alasya). Although this is only a brief overview, it should be noted that Rupa Goswami gave elaborate details about one’s relationship with Krishna and how one can uncover that relationship.
Rupa Goswami’s insights into the deepest levels of Krishna consciousness should come as no surprise, for in addition to receiving the instruction of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and being empowered by Him to write transcendental literature, Rupa Goswami’s spiritual identity reveals his unique ontological position. He is an incarnation of Rupa Manjari, one of the most intimate assistants in the loving affairs of Radha and Krishna.
But Rupa Manjari is particularly inclined to Shrimati Radharani. This is technically called Radha-dasyam, which reaches its zenith in Manjaribhav, or Bhavollasarati – the culmination of selfless Gaudiya devotion (see Afterword). This is the stage of spirituality wherein one does not want for oneself but, rather, is interested in Radhika’s pleasure, for only She can ultimately please Krishna.
In addition to stressing this point in his writings, Rupa Goswami illustrated its conclusions in a practical way, in his own life, especially when he lived in Vrindavan. One example of this can be found in Bhakti-ratnakara (Fifth Wave). According to that text, one day, as Rupa Goswami performed his bhajan (meditational worship) in the vicinity of Tero Kadamba (not far from Nandagram in the area of Vraj), he had the intense desire to get some milk and sugar and to prepare khir (a sweet milk drink) for his Govinda Deity. Then, he thought, he would offer this sacred food to his guru and elder brother, Sanatan Goswami. A few moments after Shri Rupa had begun thinking in this way, a beautiful young girl came to his place of bhajan, bringing him a nice quantity of milk and sugar. “Here,” she said, “please prepare some nice khir and offer it to your Deity.” After saying these words, she disappeared.
Rupa Goswami did just as she said, boiling the milk and sugar into a thick, condensed sweet drink. He offered it to his Deity and then gave the remnants to Sanatan for his enjoyment. In fact, as Shri Sanatan relished Rupa Goswami’s preparation, he was overcome with symptoms of ecstasy. After some time, he was able to control himself, and then he asked Rupa just where he had gotten the ingredients for this particular preparation. When his brother told him the story of the beautiful young girl, Sanatan could understand that this was actually Radharani Herself, showering mercy on Rupa Goswami.
But because Shrimati Radharani was their object of devotion, and they were Her dedicated servants, the proper relationship of served and servitor had been disrupted, and the Bhakti-ratnakar makes careful record of this. The story ends with Sanatan telling Rupa never again to accept such gifts. In point of fact, this story serves to illustrate that Rupa and Sanatan are specifically the servants of Shrimati Radharani. And all who are “Rupanugas,” those who follow in the line of Rupa Goswami, must also come to see themselves as Her servants. Their prayer is as follows: “By offering Her betel nuts, by massaging Her feet, by bringing Her water, by arranging for Her secret meetings with Lord Krishna, and by performing many other services, many gopi maidservants affectionately please Shri Radha, the great queen of Vrindavan forest. When the divine couple enjoy their pastimes, these maidservants are not at all shy, even in the presence of the great gopis for whom Shri Radha is more dear than life. I take shelter of these gopi’s maidservants, who have Shrimati Rupa Manjari as their leader.” (Vraja-vilas-stava 38)