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Viraha Bhakti (The Early History of Krsna Devotion)

Viraha Bhakti (The Early History of Krsna Devotion)
Item Code: NAK710
Author: Friedhelm Hardy
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9788120838161
Pages: 718
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 984 gms
About The Book

The Lord Krsna abandoned his earthly mistresses who then spent their days of sepration pining for his return. This powerful theme found expression not only in myth, but also in the devotion and poetry of a religious culture which evolved in South India. From the fifth century A.D. the Tamils absorbed many elements from the classical traditions of the North, such as yoga, temple worship and Krsna myths, and the results were unique blends of the two civilizations. Viraha-bhakti, as the author styles this type of krsna religion, imbued the theme of separation with erotic and ecstatic features and evolved as one of the highlights of Indian religion and culture. The Present work is a detailed study of the multifarious origins of Viraha-bhakti in South India and its developments up to the point at which it entered the pan Indian scene.

The study suggests a revision of the monolithic image of Indian religion implied in much scholarly literature. It differentiates a great variety of interacting traditions and milieu, and demonstrates the dynamism of Indian culture. By identifying a specific type of religion and reflecting on its significance, the author attempts, at the same time, to go beyond purely textual and historical considerations. Thus the book will be of interest to any student of Indian religion.


About The Author

Friedhelm Hardy (1943-2004), was Professor of Indian Religions, teaching of King College, London. He was a linguist familiar with both classical and modern Indian languages. He was also the author of a prominent work The Religious Culture of India: Power, Love and Wisdom.



The role of bhakti in India religion is well-known, and has been important from an early date onward. Bhakti manifests itself prominently in the Bhagavadgita, and scholars have debated whether it is already noticeable in even earlier texts. However, few readers had realized that there are different kinds of bhakti, that bhakti of the Bhagavadgita is not the same as the bhakti that finds expression in numerous more recent texts. This changed witht eh publication of Friedhelm Hardy’s Viraha-bhakti in 1983. Viraha-bhakti means “bhakti in sepration”, and this emotional form of bhakti is to be distinguished from the more intellectual bhakti that characterizes the Bhagavadgita. Hardy shows in this book how this emotional form of bhakti originated with the South Indian alvars, and only subsequently came to be adopted in the Sanskrit Bhagavata Purana and spread to North India.

Hardy’s Viraha-bhakti was landmark publication that has lost but little of its importance in the thirty years that have elapsed since its first publication. It is matter of pride and satisfaction that it is now included in the Hindu Tradition Series.



This book has grown over fourteen years-probably too long a period, pace vintage wine. The original idea for it was conceived some time in 1968, and 1976 saw its first fruit as a D. Phil. thesis for the University of Oxford. A slightly modified manuscript was sent to the press in 1978, and this is effectively the cut-off date for the literature discussed here.

Fourteen years are too long, because changes in my approach and direction have resulted less in a uniform whole than in a pastiche which can now be read from a variety of angles. At the beginning stood indeed a historical interest: to write up the gopi myths in their developments, somewhat along the lines of Hacker's Prahlada (a work that meanwhile has triggered off a series of similar studies in Germany). But soon the Bhagavata-Purana emerged as the great mystery which, in turn, pointed me towards the fascinating world of the Alvars. (For some years now these Tamil poets have attracted the attention of others too. A. K. Ramanujan's attractive anthology of Nammalvar, Hymns for the Drowning, appeared early this year; L. Ate wrote a thesis for the University of Wisconsin on Periyalvar in 1978; and Arokiyasami is preparing a French translation of the three early Alvars. These and other recent studies came to my notice too late to be taken into consideration for the present book.) Moreover, the ordering of my sources drew me increasingly into reflections on 'methodology' or, as I would prefer to call it, on developing a model for the extremely complex interactions of various traditions, milieux, value-systems and modes of discourse which together constitute Indian culture. This theme has remained in the background of publications of mine since 1977, and will be discussed more fully in my 'From the "illness of love" to "social hermeneutics" (to appear in vol. 3 of Contributions to South Asian Studies, ed. Gopal Krishna, Oxford University Press, Delhi). Here, fortunately, fourteen years have not led me to fundamentally different views from those implied in the following pages (although today I would use 'normative ideology' with greater caution). Since 1973 I have been working in a British 'Religious Studies' environment. Resisting the urge to become polemical, I want to say only this: if the following pages do not read like traditional Oriental Studies (or Indologie), the reason for this would lie in my reaction to that environment, absorbing and rejecting its stimuli, ambitions and pretensions. A final angle is implied, namely, that of cultural encounter and transformation. Viraha-bhakti reflects-and enabled-the meeting of the Tamil South with the North, and the light it can throw on man's imaginative and emotive potentials (in the context of economic, political, ideological and 'developmental' forces) may well possess a certain actuality in view of innumerable contemporary parallels.

During the last fourteen years the number of persons and institutions who have offered me their assistance, friendship and encouragement has grown continuously, and I find it difficult to do justice here to all of them and to all they have done for me. Prof. R. C. Zaehner was my supervisor for the original thesis till 1974. when his sudden death put an abrupt end to the many sessions of sympathetic discussion I had with him. From that date Prof. R. Gombrich became my supervisor, encouraging me and putting great effort into the improvement of my terse Anglo-Teutonic Manipravala ; unfortunately, not all my later alterations and additions have had the benefit of his meticulous eye. Due to his initiative, the present study came to be included in the Oxford University South Asian Studies Series. I would like to express here my appreciation of all those years I have known him. Prof. T. Burrow and Dr S. Gupta made valuable comments which I was pleased to incorporate in the following pages. Gopalacakravarti Aiyankar (Triplicane, Madras) initiated me into the complexities of Tamil and Manipravala, and became a close friend. I am sure he would be most pleased, if the present work were to assist others in discovering the world of South Indian Vaisnavism which he opened up for me. Profs. E. Frauwallner and P. Hacker, The Rev. G. Muhlenbrock SJ, Drs N. Klaes, K. Falkenberg, L. Siegel and Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy may be singled out here for their decisive influence on my work as former teachers, scholars and friends. Prof. C. Vaudeville, Drs K. Zvelebil, S. Janaki, H. Kulke. S. Srinivasan and K. K. A. Vekatacari corresponded with me on various points of detail and generously gave me their advice. That in spite of all this help, encouragement and guidance this book has not become more accurate, more readable and more inspiring than it is has to remain my own responsibility.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude also to the following institutions which through their generous grants and scholarships at various stages have enabled me to study at Oxford and carry out my research. Such thanks are due to the Direktor des Landschaftsverbandes Rheinland in Cologne who showed much understanding when I expressed in 1966 a wish to study in England; to the Trustees of the Max Muller Memorial Fund; of the Boden Fund (whose Sanskrit Scholarship I was awarded between 1969 and 1973); and to K. D. D. Henderson, C. M. G., Secretary to the Spalding Trust which subsidized my year's stay in Madras between 1971 and 1972.

I also wish to thank all those colleagues of mine at King's College, University of London, where I have been teaching since 1973, particularly Prof. E. G. Parrinder, who helped me to over- come perhaps the greatest obstacle I encountered in completing the present work. G. S. A. Selvaraj and his colleagues who photoset the text, and R. Parthasarathy who looked after it as editor owe my gratitude for completing so well a task which must have been surely a daunting one.

Since Germaine Greer the customary final paragraph in any acknowledgement has become a problematic matter. Fortunately, my wife Aruna has not done any typing of the manuscript, nor did she check the references or compile the index. I am not even sure that she has been very patient during these years while I have been indulging in the Krsna bhaktas and the gopis. Yet she has enjoyed hearing about it and has brought useful criticism to bear on many issues. Thus perhaps the best way of thanking her is for being what she is.



1.1 The phenomenon

His thin voice rose, and gave out one sound after another. At times there seemed rhythm, at times there was the illusion of a Western melody. But the ear, baffled repeatedly, soon lost any clue, and wandered in a maze of noises, none harsh or unpleasant, none intelligible. It was the song of an unknown bird.

E. M. Forster impressions of classical Hindustani music could without difficulty be applied to other 'unknown, unintelligible birds' found in India, for instance Hinduism. While the Western- ear hunts for recognizable melodies, familiar rhythms, and harmony, it fails to penetrate into the underlying structure from which each note derives its significance and by which beauty has to be measured.

Only the servants understood it. They began to whisper to one another. The man who was gathering water chestnut came naked out of the tank, his lips parted with delight, disclosing his scarlet tongue.

Fielding, who lacks this understanding, asks the most primal of all questions: 'What was that?' Godbole's reply avoids the musical side and turns to the literary content of the song which he can paraphrase:

'I will explain in detail. It was a religious song. I placed myself in the position of a milkmaiden. I say to Shri Krishna, "Come! come to me only." The god refuses to come. I grow humble and say: "Do not come to me only. Multiply yourself into a hundred Krishnas, and let one go to each of my hundred companions, but one, 0 Lord of the Universe, come to me." He refuses to come. This is repeated several times.'

Mrs Moore, sensing the tragic undercurrent in the song's sentiments, hesitates to yield to it. '''But he comes in some other song, I hope?" said Mrs Moore gently.' But no such easy way out exists.

'Oh, no, he refuses to come,' repeated Godbole, perhaps not understanding her question. 'I say to him, Come, come, come, come, come, come. He neglects to come.'

It would have been so much easier, if Krsna came 'in some other song'. We do not know what Mrs Moore felt; perhaps she found comfort in the servants' appreciation of the song despite these sad undercurrents. As it happened, during her stay in India she did not meet anyone like Caitanya, for whom Krsna's refusal to come is a dilemma that affects his whole existence. Meeting God- bole, she came in touch with the culturally mollified surface of a phenomenon that once was an all-absorbing religious passion. Today another Mrs Smith, by simply switching on her radio, might to her great surprise hear the Shankar family sing - with heavy Indian accent but in the style of modern pop music - 'I am missing you, Krsna ! Where are you? ...' (or something similar). We have here vestiges of the same phenomenon, kitschified to appeal to the commercially strong Indian community in Britain. However, let us turn to Caitanya:

At first he went as fast as the wind, then suddenly he turned into a pillar, paralysed and unable to move. The flesh around the roots of his hair swelled like boils, and his hair stood on end all over his body. Sweat was dripping from his hair like blood. Unable to speak, his throat emitted gurgling sounds. His eyes filled with tears; his body turned pallid like a white conch. He began to shake, and shivering and trembling fell down on the ground."

The disciples of Caitanya who witnessed similar scenes almost every day during the last years of his life (he died in 1533), did not discard it as epilepsy nor did they regard it as the tragic collapse of their master's faculties Kaviraj, the last biographer of Caitanya, states in a lapidary manner:

One day Caitanya is sitting in a state of desolation, writing with his fingers in the sand and lamenting: 'Where are the banks of the Yamuna! Where is the Lord who infatuates even the god of Love himself! Kaviraj continues:

Different emotions arose in him, and agitation caught his heart. He was unable even to groan as dumb people do. Consumed by the fire of loneliness, his self-composure went tossing up and down. [Then he recited the following poem:]

'How can I pass these wretched nights, o Krsna! without seeing you! ... '

'You are my wealth, my life: show yourself to me again!' Paralysed and then shaking, sweating and turning pallid, he wept and uttered indistinct sounds. His body hair stood on end, he laughed, wept, danced about and sang. He jumped up and ran about, the next moment to fall on the ground and lose consciousness.

One is reminded by this series of strange physical acts and emotional symptoms of the equally baffling series of notes Godbole sang. We must, however, extend the range of our observation before we can try to speak of an underlying structure that might coordinate these mad bits and pieces. Let me quote from another author.




  Tables XV
  Illustrations XVI
  Maps XVII
  Preface XIX
  Transliteration XVIII
  Part One 1
  General Introduction 3-46
  Part Two 49
  The Myths of Krsna and the Milkmaids in Northern literature (up to the eleventh century) 51-111
  Part Three 117
  Mayon: the god of the jasmine landscape (Krsnaism in cankam literature) 119-233
  Part Four 239
  Mayon mysticism: the Alavars 241-473
  Part Five 481
  The Bhagavata Purana 483-547
  Part Six 553
  Emotional Krsna bhakti: prolegomena to an evaluation 555-575
  Appendices 585
I Harivamsa 63, 15-35 587
II Krsna's hallisaka in the Balacaritam 589
III The gopi story in the Brahma-and Visnu-Purana 592
IV The rasa dance 600
V Early cankam fragments 606
VI The ancient Pantiya kings and Netiyon 610
VII Extracts from the Cilappatikaram, Kalittokai and Akananuru 613
VIII Bullfight and Kuravai 617
IX Bull-catching and shouting dance among the Todas 629
X Aycciyarkuravai11] to14] 634
XI Evidence for the South Indian origin of the BhP 637
XII Parallel passages in the BhP and the Prabandham 647
  Bibliographies 653
  Abbreviation 655
  Original source in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Apabhramsa 656
  Original source in Tamil and Manipravala 659
  Secondary sources: books and articles 662
  Index 675

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