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Mystery Plays in Sanskrit (With Special Reference to the Krishnaite Plays in India)

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Item Code: NAK584
Author: Nrisinha Prasad Bhaduri
Publisher: Progressive Publishers
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9788180642456
Pages: 424
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 550 gm
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Book Description



The title of this book could very well have been otherwise, but it was not changed because it reflects a time when I was groping in the darkness of academic rigmarole. In 1984 my revered teacher Prof. Shibendranath Ghosal fell seriously ill and my labour of two years pursuing a particular subject for preparing a thesis became futile. I switched over to Jadavpur University and had to strike a new field under he supervision of Prof. Sukumari Bhattacharji, one of the scholars extra-ordinaries in India. While I submitted a project on Rupa Gosvamin's dramas in the Jadavpur University, the same was rejected in the Ph.D. committee on a trivial ground. The influential greats in the committee said that the project was verbally granted by 'someone' in the department to 'someone' who had already taken pains of reading these dramas, Sukumari, however, helped me come out of mess and told me that there was more things in the Sanskrit departments of all universities and the denial was more due to personal grudge borne by others towards her and it was nothing against me or the" project. I realised the situation and immediately did some addition and minor alterations, but the title of the thesis was meaningfully camouflaged by a particular English literary coinage and the project was astutely mantled as the Mystery dramas in Sanskrit. What's in a name ! Hence the title.


Since Chainyite Vaishnavism is a very familiar subject in my house, any investigation in this field, what to speak of a project, came down to me as a course of enjoyment and cultivation (charvana). The books left by my father and the knowledge imparted by him and his contemporaries like Dr. Radhagovinda Nath, Dr. Mahanamvrata Brahmachari, Shri Kedarnath Ray of Barahanagar Patbari (otherwise known as Krishnananda Babaji) and my elder brother Shri Ajit Kumar Bhaduri proved immensely valuable during the time of my research. Above all Prof. Sukumari Bhattacharji was one of those rare supervisors, who did not much interfere in the handling the core materials of the subject but always taught me how to approach a trifling academic issue with the vastness and variety of an international scholar. She never became high handed to curtail my thoughts while pursuing the individual chapters of the thesis, but taught how to make use of the vast range of study materials lying strewn in the national and international journals. Sometimes I argued with her, sometimes vehemently, but that was all academic exchange. It never acted as supervisory vengeance usual of others, I heard, and for a filler, Sukumari never forgot to fetch foreign cigarettes from London or U.SA for the consumption of a very common student of hers. In fact, she was my friend and guide at the same time.


The thesis was gathering dust for a couple of years and I was busy writing my books and articles in Bengali relating to the epics and Puranas. Suddenly it occurred to me that the thesis should be published since it bore the toils of my busiest schedule-academic and non-academic. At this point of time, I chanced to meet the Progressive Publishers who were eager to publish some of my articles written in Bengali. I, however, proposed to them about the publication of my thesis, though it was not conditional as such for the publication of the book in Bengali. They agreed to my proposal and began their formalities. Thanks to Sri Kamal Mitra, who took the real initiative to get the work done. Thanks are also due to Sri Nilanjan Dutta, who took the trouble of correcting a messy proof and to Prof. Tapasi Mukherjee of Gurudas College, Kolkata, who used her skill to place the incorporated materials in the right place. Finally my heart-felt gratitude to Prof. Tirthnath Bandyopadhyay, Ex-Professor, Dept. of Philosophy, Jadavpur University, who gladly and willingly took the trouble of going through this thesis and correcting the final proof. Time, however, elapsed for various corrections and minor additions and alterations. Ultimately the book is ready for those readers who would tolerate the delights and aspirations of a younger student who could not progress to be a scholar and remains still a student.




Notable Sanskrit scholars, specially M. Winternitz, have expressed great surprise about the absence of Krsnaite dramas in Sanskrit.' It has been a very arduous task, therefore, to deal with the Krsna dramas, when the earliest of these, the Balacarita, could not stand the test of real antiquity. Later scholars like Prof. Norvin Hein seem much convinced with the arguments of Winternitz and support his claim about the scantiness of Krsnaite Sanskrit dramas. Prof. Hein, later followed by J. S. Hawley undertook strenuous fieldwork in the Hindispeaking areas in India and brought out books like The Miracle Plays of Mathura and At Play with Krishna: Pilgrimage dramas from Brindavana.


Of these two Prof. Hein first gave in 1960 a fanciful title to his paper as Krsnaite Mystery Plays in ancient Mathura. On close examination of the paper and its reprint in chapter IX of the Miracle Plays of Mathure, we saw that the author mainly explores the representations of the 'Rasdharis of Vraj' who enact the different sports of Krsna in vernacular.


Hawley's pilgrimage dramas present topics like the birth of Krsna, the theft of the flute or the great circle dance; but they, too, are not in Sanskrit but in vernacular, although translated into English. It was this lacuna which led me to undertake a study of the Vaisnava mystery plays.


According to the sectarian belief of the Caitanyite school, the mystery goes deeper and deeper as Krsna progressively humanises himself. Naturally while the Rama incarnation excels the Man-lion one, Krsna excels both in amplifying the human nature in the greatest degree. This is why we are concerned only with the Krsnaite mystery plays and not the others which deal with Rama or other gods. This would not, however, be clear unless we go thoroughly into the motive of Krsna's incarnation, because even a cursory examination of the sheer human nature of the god would justify the cause of Rama, who would seem even more humanised than Krsna. According to sectarian belief, Krsna made his descent out of his own interest and in that, he baffles the nature of a soteriological god. But Rama or Buddha can distinctively be regarded as saviour gods.


After a thorough examination, therefore, of the mystery of incarnations in chapter 11, we have felt it necessary to deal with the mystery of salvation. Since the idea of salvation changed from time to time and since this very concept is repugnant to the Caitanyite school we had to include the mystery of devotion and love under this head of salvation.


The first two chapters serve as a background to our discussion of the mystery plays in question. Winternitz is correct in his proposition that the Krsnaite mystery plays began to appear in number only in the 16th century, when the Caitanyite intellectuals came with their compositions. Since these dramas mainly reflect the religious views of the Caitanyite school, it would be impossible to grasp the whole meaning of these dramas without these two chapters.


With the emergence of Sri-Caitanya-deva in Bengal, there came a perfect renaissance in the field of religion and culture. The most significant message which Caitanya preached throughout his life was to praise Krsna as the highest god. Caitanya's followers in Navadvipa, as also the Vrndavana Gosvamins carried this mission through literature and metaphysical speculation. Krsna was not only established as the source of incarnations (avatarin), but also as the highest medium of love. The Caitanyite philosophers revised the systems of the earlier Vaisnava preceptors like Ramanuja, Nimvarka, Maddhva, Vallabhacarya, etc., and set everything to the tune of Krsna. In literature, Krsna became less conspicuous as a saviour god and was known more, first, as a simple and lovely child of affectionate Yasoda and then even more prominent as Radha's lover. Moreover, salvation (mukti); which was so long the ultimate goal of religious life, was replaced by devotional love (preman) towards Krsna, We have dealt with this phenomenon in chapter III.


Since all this change came after Caitanya, we notice considerable change in the outlook of the Caitanyite dramatists who undertook to deal with Krsna. The pre-Caitanya dramatists and those who are not affiliated to the Caitanya cult see the divine sports of Krsna through the hole of soteriology, while the Caitanyite dramatists through love-the love for which the supreme lord himself became incarnate as Krsna. The composition of the Krsna dramas began almost with the begining of the Christian era, when Bhasa undertook a comprehensive study of the legends of the youthful Krsna in his Balacarita. Although Bhasa mainly dealt with the Vrndavana sports in this drama, yet the epic remnant of the heroic Krsna has been preserved with meticulous care, because the principal motive of this drama is to show the subjugation of Karnsa. Other particulars of Krsna's life in Vrndavana came only as secondary issues. On the other hand, the dramas, affiliated to the Caitanya cult, (we shall call these Caitanyite dramas) mainly adhere to Krsna's Vrndavana-sports, the ultimate motive of which never dispenses with the kiling of Karnsa, but with the portrayal of Krsna's love with Hadha. Therefore, the dramas which are mainly concerned with soteriology and demon-killing, have been taken into account in chapters IV and V, although not without a side glance at how the Caitanyite dramatists deal with them.


Radha has been treated as a special phenomenon in literature and philosophy that developed after the advent of Caitanya. Naturally, the earlier dramas as well as those which have no connection with Caitanyism, either avoid the topic of Radha or treat Radha as a common heroine as found in other dramas. The Caitayite dramatists, on the other hand, represent Radha with her full metaphysical implications and chapter VI mainly concentrates on Hadha. Since Hadha's supremacy was established both ways in philosophy and literature, she began to play a cardinal role in the cultic and devotional area of Caitanyite Vaisnavisrn. The devotees placed her at a key position, a position even higher than Krsna, and tried to follow her sentiment with the Sakhis and Manjaris in their personal devotional engagements.


Western scholars who dealt with different mysteries, like those of the Orphic, the Dionysian, the Eleusinian mysteries, or the mysteries of Osiris or even the Christian mysteries, believe that the mysteries definitely correspond to a sercret cult, known only to the initiates Coming to the devotional field of Gaudiya Vaisnavism we realise that a certain mystery cult has developed around Krsna after the advent of Caitanya. The Caitanyite dramatists, therefore, laid down some specific hints of the peculiar cultic features within the limited scope of their dramatic presentation. Particularly from this point of view, the dramas of Rupa Gosvamin and Ramanandaraya have been treated with special attention to the mystery elements. The hints of cultic features which may be corroborated from the later books on Krsna-lilas are the subject of chapter VIII.


The intervening chapter VII which deals with the sentiment of devotional love from the aesthetic standpoint, is the residual part of the mystery of Radha (chapter VI). Since this devotional love is understood only by the intimate devotees and issues from their deepest emotion, we considered the establishment of the devotional love in between the mystery of Radha (chapter VI) and the cultic features (chapter VIII) which the devotees follow in their devotional pursuit.


When the Lord makes his descent in a human frame he takes the help of Yogamaya for the smooth functioning of his human sports. Since Yogamaya is an essential power of the Lord and she acts under Lord's will, we shall be in no position to justify Krsna's human behaviour without her intervention. Naturally Krsna's union with Radha and the Gopis, the propriety of illicit love and above all Krsna's oblivion about his own supreme power-all this comes within the responsibility of Yogamaya. We have, therefore, tried to enumerate the mystery of Yogamaya in chapter IX.


Although the Caitanyite dramas attach special importance to Krsna's Vrndavana sports, this is yet only a part of Krsna's life. Krsna's migration to Mathura and from Mathura to Dvaraka shows a considerable change in his lifestyle. The simple cowherd boy had to forget his enchanting life in Vrndavana and entered altogether a new phase of life-the life of royal pomp and splendour. The negotiation of Krsna's marriage with Rukmini, Satyabhama, etc., took place in the royal atmosphere. Chapter X first furnishes a background by giving succinctly the features of the Dvaraka sports and then deals with the marriage scenes.







Chapter I :

Mystery: Its Implication


Chapter II :

Mystery of Incarnation


Chapter III :

Mystery of Salvation


Chapter IV :



Chapter V :



Chapter VI :

Mystery of Radha


Chapter VII :

The Sentiment of Bhakti


Chapter VIII :

Cultic Features in the Mystery Plays


Chapter IX :

Mystery of Yogamaya and the Propriety of Illicit Love


Chapter X :

Krsna’s Migration to Mathura and Dvaraka









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