A well-known geographical site on the banks of the Yamuna, about 150 kilometers from Delhi, VRNDAVANA is one the holiest of the pilgrimages for the worshippers of Krsna. However, in the devotional Sanskrit and Braj Bhasa literatures, another dimension of Vrndavana dominates the picture, i.e., its role as an expression of the divine realm. What, then, is Vrndavana? A terrestrial place of pilgrimage? A mystic locale associated with Krsna and Radha? Or a metaphysical concept symbolizing the celestial space of the eternally-going lila (divine sport)? With sharp focus on these and allied questions, Dr. Corcoran explores afresh the essential nature of Vrndavana, critically analyzing the representative texts from the immense corpus of Vaisnava literature of different genres: mythological, metaphysical, devotional and commentatorial.
The author's inquiry seeks to identify a notional sequence of ideas connected with Vrndavana: the description of (a) a mythic place, (b) a symbolic place, (c) the geographical town as a centre of pilgrimage. And also looks at other thematically relevant concepts, for instance, avatara (incarnation) and lila (divine sport), underlying the entire understanding of the nature of the divine and the relation of the divine to the material world.
The book exhibits a striking departure from modern sources which have, for the most part, concentrated on Vrndavana as a geographical place, glossing over its symbolic and mythic significance.
About the Author:
Dr. Maura Corcoran's acquaintance with Hindi began as a child in India. She subsequently studied Hindi at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. For the pursuit of her post-graduate research work she stayed at Vrindaban for some time and was associated with the Vrindaban Research Institute. This granted her an opportunity to be familiar with the region of Braj and analyse the Vaisnava theology, traditions and literary texts. She received a Ph.D. in 1980 from the University of London and since then she has been teaching Hindi in London. Dr. Corcoran was the Chief Examiner for GCSE Hindi for a number of years. At present, she is In-charge of Religious Education in a secondary school.
VRNDAVANA is held in high esteem by the Hindu devotees and particularly the followers of the Vaisnava sect. The perennial stream of devotional literature has been describing the holy place with great reverence since it was sanctified with the lilas (exploits) of Lord Krsna in his boyhood days. What we see today is a township, the historicity of which can be traced back from the 16th century. Lost in the ruins and forest, its rebirth is due to the transcendental vision of Sri Chaitanya haling from Eastern India. He and his followers conceived it at the supramundane plane, and they harmonised it with the earliest concept of a holy place emitting divine resplendence.
Vrndavana has, therefore, been visualised under different aspects, viz. historical, mythological, and symbolical . All these facets as handed down in literature have been amply analysed by Dr. Maura Corcoran in her work- Vrndavana in Vaisnava Literature. She has comprehensively surveyed Brajabhasa literature and also peeped into the Vedic hymns, Puranas, Lilas , and philosophical texts; and secular or non-sectarian views have also been considered. She has, however, not highlighted the Buddhist antiquity of the place as evidenced by some remains now preserved in the Mathura Museum. Beside taking into account various texts, she also had the opportunity to inspect a number of spots during her stay at the Vrindaban Research Institute for the pursuit of her research.
Dr. Corcoran is to be complimented on this important achievement, and I hope this will be well received by scholars and by admires of Vrndavana. I add my own verse in praise of the holy place.
As well as being one of the holiest places for all followers of Krsna, Vrndavana forms a key concept involved in the crystallization of modem Vaisnava Hinduism. Vrndavana is that sacred space within which the eternal divine play of Krsna occurs. It is not, therefore, surprising that the study of this largely medieval and modem conception can be seen to have significant and potentially far-reaching implication for the development of Vaisnavism in the prehistoric and classical periods. I would hope that the present work may clarify some aspects of the concept of Vrndavana, throwing further light on these important Vaisnava texts.
In the absence of clear historical testimony as to the early history of the place and of the relevant texts, this investigation seeks to identify a notional sequence of ideas connected with Vrndavana: the description of (a) a mythic place; (b) a symbolic place. (c) the geographical town as a centre of pilgrimage. Modern sources have for the most part concentrated on Vrndavana as a geographical place and have failed to throw light on its symbolic and mythic Significance.
An examination of Hindu literature often shows the re-emergence of the most ancient concepts at a much later date, indicating an unexpected continuity of tradition. It would be easy to suppose, for example, that the Krsna of Braj Hindi literature would bear no relationship to the Krsna which occurs in Vedic literature. An examination of Vedic literature, however, indicates that the roots of both the 'mythic' and the 'symbolic' approaches relate to a Vrndavana prototype linked with the earliest attestations of Krsna.
It is interesting to look at the concepts in clusters and see the repercussions of a change in one concept or the others in that particular cluster. Two concepts which link in this way both with each other and with Vrndavan are incarnation (avatara) and divine sport (lila) - two of the most fundamental concepts of devotional Hinduism underlying the entire understanding of the nature of the divine and the relation of the divine to the material world. An examination based on the concept of incarnation seeks to define the 'mythic' approach of the Puranas, where the treatment of Vrndavana is linked with the manifest Krsna, as opposed to the unmanifest Visnu, By contrast Braj Bhasa and sectarian commentatorial literature obviate the need for incarnation as an event by ignoring (Braj texts) or rejecting (Sanskrit sources) the doctrine of incarnation and the orthodox hierarchy that this entails.
The concept of divine sport is the basis of a further distinction between the Puranas and sectarian literature. The latter delimits the definition of lila to cover only Krsna's extra-terrestrial activity, so that Vrndavana is envisaged as a purely divine realm, entirely separate from the cosmos. In the Puranas, lila encompasses indeed all divine activity, both creation and incarnation, but it, and associated aspects of Vrndavana, remain wholly within the confines of the manifest world.
The various approaches to the representation of Vrndavana are reflected in the imagery used in the texts to describe it. This ranges from the mythical images of tree, river and mountain to the symbolic forms of lotus petals and pericarp reminiscent of Tantric yantras.
Because Vrndavana is identified as a holy place, it is also a pilgrimage centre within the material world. The significance of the geographical site varies markedly depending on the genre and sectarian source of the text. In looking at the concept of Vrndavana, it is not really important whether or not the site "rediscovered" by the Gaudiya Goswamis and today a major centre for all worshippers of Krsna, is in historic fact identifiable with the mythic Vrndavana. What matters is the meaning it assumes in the texts and the way in which the geographical Vrndavana is totally identified with the divine realm which it symbolises. This has implications for the interpretation of pilgrimage in such texts, which is no longer a ritual movement from one holy site to another as a means of gaining merit, but instead total immersion of mind and body in one place in order to take part in the divine play.
This work would not have been possible without the help, criticism and support of many. In particular I must thank Dr. R.D. Gupta who was instrumental in inspiring me to undertake this research and is securing the means for its publication. Without the help of Professor J.C. Wright I would not have been able to begin to trace the roots of these concepts to the Vedic literature. Professor Wright's critical comments also helped me to formulate my ideas more clearly. The interest and encouragement of Dr. R.S. Macgregor gave me the confidence to see the research through. One of the most valuable sources, however, was my visit to Vrindaban itself, and I am particularly grateful to all those at the Vrindaban Research Institute who made my stay so worthwhile.
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