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Darkness Over the Sublime

Monika Varma

By David R. Kinsley
Vikas, New Delhi, 1975, 35.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 6 November-December 1977

David Kinsley says in his preface that he came to Calcutta to undertake resear­ch on the Bengal Vaishnavas—‘and it was with some eagerness that I anticipa­ted seeing Krsna expressing himself in a cultic context’. Then he tells us about the tumultuous celebrations of Durga Puja he saw, finally how ‘in the rear of the truck’s cab’ he fell into the arms of the Kali image, breaking her arm, as ‘the lurching vehicle careened through the streets’ for the immersion ceremony. After this rather zippy beginning the journey starts for visions of the terrible and the sublime—‘glimpse Kali’s sword and hear Krsna’s flute’. In the first page of his first chapter, writing about Krsna, Kinsley says: ‘His most famous and dramatic intervention has come to be known as the Bhagavad­gita, the “Song of the Lord”, in which he reveals himself as an avatara of Vishnu, an incarnation (or descent) of the supreme god, whose divine purpose is to ensure victory for the just Pandavas’, later on, he writes, ‘playing the role of Arjuna’s charioteer (A humble and sub­servient role, like his later cowherd role)’. Having said this he goes on to say, ‘He does not act in a historical, moral, or cosmic sense’. Having given his own opinion, as a Ph.D. scholar, he then develops his theme, or tries to, by giving what is also a traditional Bengal Vaish­nava viewpoint regarding the godhead: ‘It is shown to revel in its own joyful being’. Then ‘Krsna, the playful, charming cowherd boy who sports in Vrindavana, expresses the truth that the divine is most completely itself when it dallies aimlessly, overflowing itself in self-delight and self-generated rapture.’ He has quoted extensively from the songs of  Vidyapati to suit and fit into his meandering excursions into ‘the world of Vrindavan’ but the point he has miss­ed completely is the meaning of Vrinda­vana, for he never goes into the deeper sense of the word. He has sub-titled the book with the word Sublime but we miss the statement and descriptions regarding this and the Bengal Vaishnava explana­tion about Vrindavana. They say, ‘The Whole is too vast, too awesome for the human psyche, so each set of people, with their own vision of the Divine, mirror their ideas and thoughts on this glittering portion called Vrindavana. This Vrindavana is only a ...

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