The Pornography of Krishna

From Joseph Campbell's Oriental Mythology

PUBLISHED on the Internet: Dec. 26, 2005.

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COPYRIGHT Joseph Campbell, "The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology", 1962. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 59-8354. Chapter 6, section iv., "The Way of Delight", pages 343 - 364.

For a final taste of the somewhat overripe late fruit of the tree of India, the obvious legend to be chosen is of the blue-black boy-savior Krishna, in his charming popular aspect as the moonlight lover of the Gopis; the young and middle-aged wives of a cow-herding folk, among whom, as their foster child, he was being reared.

The legend is of interest not only in itself but also from a comparative point of view; for when its overt celebration of adulterous love is contrasted with that of the poetry of the European troubadours and the romances of Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Iseult, it exhibits, on the one hand, a number of analogies, but on the other, a completely different spirit. Althoug its culminating document, "The Song of the Cowherd" (Gita Govinda), by the court poet Jayadeva, is of a date (c. 1175) that lands it pricesely in the century of the leading Tristan verse romances (from that of Thomas, c. 1165, to Goffried von Strassburg, 1210) and is a work, furthermore of an even more overt erotic definition that theris, the atmosphere and argument throughout are of religion; as thought the passion of Tristan and Iseult had been identified with the love, say, of Christ and Mary Magdalene in the mode of the Song of Songs. Moreover, whereas in the twelfth-century courtly disciplines of Europe the concerntration of the lover was to be entirely on the qualities of one lady, the wonderful boy-savior Krishna, who could multiply himself boundlessly, achieved, in the course of the centuries of his legend (as the reader soon will see), an ecstasy of wanton raputre of the most prodigious spread; and to such a feat of yogic power the Occidental term love (at least in its courtly sense) cannot be applied.

We need not rehearse the legends of his miraculous birth and of the numerous pranks played by the littel blue-black boy, together with his white brother Balarama, among the wagons of the cowherds. Suffice to say that they were enough to make him well known to every girl and woman of the company; so that these were already very much his victims when they heard, one moonlit night, the strains fo a solitary flute coming from the forest—distant mustic drifting to their hearts. The perfume of white waterlilies hung heavy in the air, and the Gopis all stirred in sleep. Thier hearts opened, then their eyes, and one by one, they got up cautiously and, like so many shadows, slipped from their homes. One softly hummed an accompaniment to the flute; another, also running, listened; a third called out his name, then shrank, abashed; while a fourth, who, on stirring, had seen the seniors of her household still awake, shut her eyes again, but meditated with such effect on her beloved that she was joined with him forever—in death.

The boy professed surprise when he beheld his multitude arrive, "But where," hea sked, "are your fathers, brothers, husbands?" Shocked—and all greatly surprised, furthermore, to find the other Gopis present—some began to etch figures on the ground with their toes, and the eyes of all became lakes of tears. "We cannot move from thy lotus feet," they pleaded; and the god, when he had teased enough, began to move among them freely, playing still upon his flute. "O place thy lotus hands," they cried, "upon our aching breasts, upon our heads!" And the dance began.

Now there exists a number of versions of this dance, the rasa, of Krishna and the Gopis, dating from the sixth to sixteenth centuries A.D.; so that there is available a rather full documentation of the growth of what was, on one side, a literary, but, on the other, a deeply religious tradition of erotic play. And it would be difficult to find a more convincing illustration of a certain universal principle in the history of relgious thought, which is, namely, that, in proportion as poetic insight and sensibility decline, sensationalism, hackneyed formulae, and sentimentality increase.

In the earlier versions of the rasa, in the sixth-century Vishnu Purana and Harivamsa, the moonlight play of Krishna and the Gopis retains the atmosphere of a bucolic idyll. Its main event was a dance in which the women, holding hands, moved in a circle, each with her eyes closed, imagining herself to be Krishna's friend. The Vishnu Purana states:
"Each he took by the hand, and when their eyes were shut by the magic of his touch, the circle formed. Krishna sang an air in praise of autumn. The Gopis responded, praising Krishna, and the dance began to the tinkle of their bracelets.

Occasionally dizzied by the round, one or another would throw her arms about her beloved's neck and the drops of his perspiration then were like fertilizing rain, which caused the down to stand forth on her temples. Krishna sang. The Gopis cried, "Hail, Krishna!" Where he led, they followed; when he turned, they met; and for each, every moment was a myriad of years.

Thus the Being Omnipotent assumed the character of a youth among the women of Vrindavan, pervading their natures and therewith, too, the natures of their lords; for, even as in all creatures the elements are comprehended of ether, air, fire, water, and earth, so also is the Lord everywhere, within all."
The idea of the immanence of the god trancedent is here the inspiring theme; and, as in all Indian mystic lore, the trend is to a depth wherein just that is realized and differentiations dissolve. The shut eyes of the Gopis indicate that the presence dwells within all, as the very being of each being, so that the rasa in this early version is a gently balanced symbol of the Indian Orthodox Double Way, wherein the outer order of virtue (Dharma) is maintained while within there is realized union (yoga) with a principle that both supports the order and transcends it, and with which every creature and particle of the universe is eternally one.

In the version of the Harivamsa—which is an appendix to the Mahabharata, stressing the divinity of the epic hero as an incarnation of Hari (Visnu)*#151;the rendition of the frolic of the dance leans rather more heavily than in the Vishnu Purana toward the mode of lascivious abandon which, in the end, was to gain the field.

"As she elephants, covered with dust, enjoy the frenzy of a great male," we read, "so those herding women—their limbs covered with dust and cowdung—crushed about Krishna and danced with him on all sides. Their faces, laughing, and their eyes, large and warm as those of antelopes, grew bright as they drank ravenously the wonder of their dear friend. 'Ahah!' he would cry out to startle them, and they would quiver with delight. And their hair, coming down, cascaded over their bounding breasts as the young god, thus among the Gopis, played, those nights, beneath the autumn moon."

In the Bhagavata Purana of the tenth century A.D.—which is the chielf work of meditation of Krishna-devotionalism to this day—the young god is master of the lover's art, and the balance now has shifted from introversion to a translation of yoga into bhoga ("physical enjoyment, possession"; from the root bhuj, "to enjoy a meal, to consume").

"Reaching out his arms," we read, "he caressed their hands, their flowing locks, thighs, waists and breasts; scratched theirm with his nails, pierced them with his glances; laughed, joked, and teased; gratified them with all the tricks of the Lord of Love."

And as for the Gopis, they cried to him in rapture: "Pierced by those eyes and the wonder of those smiles, seeing those two magnificent arms, which give to all assurance of protection, and that chest that would kindle love in the heart of the Goddess of Fortune herself; we are determined to become thy slaves. Indeed, what woman in heavens, on earth, or in the hells, would not forget the chastity of her nature when captured by thy flute and the beauty of thy form—which is the glory of the world, and seeing which, even cows, does, and the female birds brooding in the trees, feel the hairs and feathers of their bodies lift with delight."

An episode now occurs, however, that delivers to the company a shock, and which, in the following centuries of religious worship and poetic celebration of Krishna and the Gopis, was to be developed as a leading themse and point of meditation. For when the women had been excited to a pitch of frenzy beyond bounds, their god abruptly disappeared, and they, now entirely mad, began to search for him from one forest to another, questioning the vines, trees, birds and flowers, shouting his name and praise, and amorously imitating his movements; whereupon, suddenly—behold!—one found his footsteps.

"Here," they all cried, "are the footsteps of our Lord!"

"But alas!" they cried again; for there were smaller footprints besides them; and then, those smaller footsteps disappeared.

"He must have carried her!" they cried. "See! his own now are deeper from the weight. And here he laid her down, to gather flowers. Here he sat, to braid the flowers in her hair. Who was she?"

In the Bhagavata Purana the favored Gopi is not named. Her adventure, however, is described.
She was the wife [we read] of a cowherd. Krishna had led her into the forest, leaving the rest, and she had thought herself the most blessed in the world. "Leaving the rest," she thought, "this beloved Lord of us all has chosen me for his delight"; and, becoming pround, she said to him: "My darling, I just can't walk another step. Do pick me up, once again, and carry me where you will." "Well, then," said he, "climb onto my shoulder." But when she made to do so, he vanished and, stunned, she fell to the ground in a faint, where, presently, the others reached her and they all began to cry.

"We have all set our marriages to naught to come to thee; and thou knowest why, Deceiver! Who but thee would desert a woman, thus, at night?" Then, immediately their mood changed. "Oh thy poor, poor feet," they cooed. "Are they not sore from all this running about? Come, let us place them on our soothing breasts."
He appeared, laughing, and they all arose simultaneously, like plants at the touch of water. He was in saffron garments, dark and beautiful, garlanded with flowers, and many, seizing him but the arms, lifted him to their shoulders. One took from his mouth into her own the betel he was chewing; another placed his feet upon her breasts. And then all, removing their upper garments, spread these on teh ground to create for him a seat where he sat while they took his feet into their laps and his hands to their breasts, massaging his legs and arms. As though in anger, they were saying to him, "Some people are attached to those devoted to them, others, to those not devoted; and again, there is a class attached to neither. So now, dear Krishna, please explain to us clearly the reason for these extraordinary manners."

To which the auspicious Lord Almighty answered, "Where people are mutually attached, each is prompted by his own interests, and so, they are attached, not to each other, but to themselves. And where there is attachment to those not so devoted, two classes of persons are to be distinguished, namely, one: those who are kind, and two: those who are affectionate. The former gain religious merit and the latter gain a friend. And so, here again we find self-interest. But, as for those attached neither to those devoted to them nor to those not devoted, these, I would say, are of four classes; one: those finding solace in their own souls; two: those who have already attained the fruit of their desires; three: those selfishly ungrateful; and four: those who wish only to oppress. But now, my dear friend with lovable waists, I do not belong to any of these sects. When I refuse attachment to those devoted to me, my reason is, to make their devotion more intense. I disappeared so that your hearts should be so absorbed in me that you would be unable to think of anything else. You had already forsaken for me all sense of right and wrong, your relatives, husbands, and your duties. There is no blame in what you have done, my dears; nor is there blame in what I have done. I shall never be able to return to you the services you have rendered; they can find their return only in your own further service."

He got up, and the Gopis, freed from all grief, arose and formed a circle. The Lord multiplied his presence and each felt that he embraced her by the neck. The sky above became filled with deities and their wives, gathering to watch; heavenly kettledrums sounded; showers of blossoms began to fall; and the ring of dancers commenced moving to the rhythmic sound of their own bangles, bracelets and ankle bells. With measured steps, graceful movements of the hands, smiles, amorous contractions of the brows, joggling hips, bounding breasts, perspiration streaming and locks of hear coming down, then the knots of both hair and garments coming loose, the Gopis began to sing. And the Lord Krishna, sporting among them, wonderfully brilliant, cried, "Well done!" to one who had sung slightly out of tune, but loudly, giving the betel from his mouth to another who received it with her tongue, placing his lotus hands on the various breasts and letting his perspiration rain upon all.

They were besides themselves, their senses paralyzed, garments going out of place, garlands and ornaments dropping off. Above, the wives of the gods, gazing from the sky, were captured by the spell; the moon and stars brightened with amazement. And when a Gopi swooned besides him, Krishna in one of his presences wiped and soothed her face with his hand, while he kissed another in such a way that the down of her body lifted with delight. His nails, sharp as the arrows of the God of Love, were leaving their deadly marks upon all. The garlands of this neck were bruised by the crush and he was smeared with teh saffron of their breasts. Like an elephant mad with passion, trumpeting mightily in a herd of equally mad she-elephants, ichor pouring from his temples, the god, followed by his whole company, when plunging to the river— and there, laughing, tumbling, sporting, screeching, they all splashed each otehr, right and left. And the god there, in the Yamuna, was a dark blue, glorious lotus, swarmed upon by a multitude of black bees.
"But how then, O my Teacher," asked a king, who, in the text of this Purana has been depicted as listening to the tale, "how, possibly, could the creator, expounder, and upholder of the laws of virtue have allowed himself to violate every order of religion by seducing others' wives?"

"My good King," replied the Brahmin who was recounting this sacred tale for the king's religous edification, "even the gods forget virtue when their passions are fully awake. But they are not to be blamed for this any more than fire when it burns. For what the gods teach is virtue—and that is for men to follow; but what the gods do is something else. No god is to be judged as a man."

That is lesson number one.

"Moreover," the Brahmin continues, "the greatest sages, too, as we all know, are beyond good and evil. Absorbed in devotion to their Lord, they are no longer fettered in their acts."

That is lesson number two. And the last?

"But finally," said the all-wise Brahmin, "Krishna was already present in the hearts of both the Gopis and their lords—as he is in the hearts of all living beings. His apparition as a man, the form of Krishna, was to rouse devotion to that presence. And all those who listen properly to his tale will find both devotion and understanding wakened in their hearts—as it was, of old, in the hearts of the Gopis of Vrindavan. For when that night of lunar rapture ended, the Gopis again were at their husbands' sides, and the men, who had thougth them there all the while, were not jealous but only the more infatuated by the force within them of Vishnu's world-creating, world-supporting, sweet illusion."
The contrast to this teaching with that of the legend of the young Future Buddha among his women in the groves or on the night of his Graveyard Vision could not, it would seem, be greater; and yet, in this period, Buddhist as well as Hindu sects were teaching the way to salvation, not only in terms of neti neti, "not that, not that," but also in those of iti iti, "it is here, it is here." We have seen that two negatives make a positive and that when dualistic thought is wiped away and nirvana therewith realized, what appears to be the sorrow and impurity of the world (samsara) becomes the pure rapture of the void (nirvana):
The bound of nirvana is the bound of samsara.
Between the two, there is not the slightest difference.

Everything seen is extinct: the precession is at rest.
Never, anywhere, has the Law been taught to anyone by a Buddha.
This positive reading of nivana led in the period of the great beliefs to the rise of a number of disparate yet related movements showing influences running back and forth between the Buddhist and Brahminic folds. And of these, one was the so-called Sahajiya cult, which flourished in Bengal in the period of the Pala Dynasty (c. 730- 1200 A.D.), wherein it was held that the only true experince of the pure rapture of the void was the rapture of sexual union, where "each is both." This was the natural path, it was declared, to the innate nature (sahaja) of oneself, and therewith of the universe: the path along which nature itself leads the way.

So we read: "The whole world is of the nature of sahaja; for sahaja is the 'proper form' (svarupa) of all; and this precisely is nirvana to those who possess a perfectly pure intellect." This sahaja is to be intuited within." "It is free from all sounds, colors, and qualities; can neither be spoken of nor known." "Where tthe mind dies out and the vital breath is gone, there is the Great Delight supreme; it neither stands steady nor fluctuates, nor is it expressible in words." "In that state the individual mind joins sahaja as water water." "There is no duality in sahaja. It is perfect, like the sky."

And again: "All external forms are to be recognized as pure void. The mind, also, is to be realized as pure void. And through this realization of the essencelessness of the objects, also of the subject, the sahaja reality is revealed of itself in the heart of the accomplished practitioner." One knows then: "I am the universe: I am Buddha: I am perfect purity: I am non-cognition; I the annihilator of the cycle of existence."

In the Buddhist lamaseries of Tibet, which came into being in the period her discussed and remained until the recent arrival of the Chinese, the holy images and banners showed the various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas joined with their Shaktis in embrace, in the yogic posture known as Yab-Yum, "Father-Mother" (See also "Ying-Yang"). And the great prayer of the old prayer wheels of Tibet "Om mani padme hum", "The jewel (mani) in the lotus (Padme)", signifies, on one level: the immanence of nirvana (the jewel) in samsara (the lotus); another, the arrival of the mind (the jewel) in nirvana (the lotus); but also, as in the icon of the male and female joined: the lingam (penis) in the yoni (vagina). Buddhatvam yosidyonisamsritam, states a late Buddhist aphorism: "Buddhahood abides in the vagina."

And so it was that when the relatively intangible dream of Krishna's dance with the Gopis came in contact with this movement—which itself had become saturated with Shiva-Shakti lore—a certain new stress developed of which the beloved erotic poem of Jayadeva, "The Song of the Cowherd" (c. 1175 A.D.), is the document without peer. The center of the stage is held here, not by the herd of many Gopsi, nor even by Krishna himself, but by the one whose footsteps were seen together with those of her Lord. She is given, now, a name and character. And with a boldness that, as far as I know, is unmatched in religious literature, an all too human woman is made the object of devotion to which even God, the Creator Himself, bows down."

She was Radha; married, somewhat older than the boy. And, as Jayadeva tells in his cherished poem (which is conceived in twelve odes, each to be sung to a particular measure and mustical mode, in the manner of a lyric play), their romance commenced one evening in the lgaldes of Vrindavan, when they ahd been out with Krishna's foster father Nanda, and the other elders of the clan, herding cows.

The sky grew dark; the forest too; and Nanda, turning to Radha, said: "The boy is afraid, see him home." She caught his hands; and he was guided that night, not home, but to love on the banks of the Yamuna.

"Hail to Vishnu!" the poet writes. "Hearing this song of Jayadeva, may He make it powerful to teach!"

A litany of incarnations of Vishnu is rehearsed, of which Krishna is the eight; and the next we learn is that Radha, sick with love, is roving helplessly with a maidservant amid the groves of Vrindavan.

"I know," her companion sang to her when the two had paused to rest; "I know where Krishna tarries: kissing one, caressing another, dashing for a third. Clothed in saffron, decked with garlands, he is dancing with his women, teasing them to madness, and the prettist of them all is dancing with him now."

Radha, in a frenzy, hurling herself toward the grove, broke, stark mad, into the company, and darting for Krishna's mouth, passionately devoured him and cried, "Ah yes! Your mouth, dear, is ambrosia."

And that is the end of Ode One of Jayadeva's song.

The second ode is called "The Penitence of krishna":

For the god in his dance had continued unperturbed, and Radha, repulsed, withdrew in a progidious sulk to a bower. She sighed. "Alas! My soul cannot forget Krishna." And her companion sang to her this song:

"Oh let Krishna have his joy of me in all the ways of desire. Let him lie close to me this night, incite me with his smiles, and having clasped me in his arms, savoring my lips, sleep long upon my breast in the flowery bed!" The song went on: "Let his nails dig into my breast and, going beyond love's science, let him seize my hair to ravish me, while the jewels on my limbs chatter and my girdle comes apart! And oh! let me drop like a liana into his arms, stilled by rapture, at the moment love's work is done.

"For even now," the song continues, "I see him pausing in his dance. The flute drops from his hand: the play in the wood has lost its charm. Recalling that brief glimpse of his beloved—her breast, an arm, a lock of hair&#his heart has turned away from his dance...."

The poem is lush, and by a critic of today would be classed rather with Shakespeare's "Venus and Adonis," as a kind of boudoir piece, than with, say, Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ. And yet in India, where things are never what they seem to us to be, the Imitation of Krishna in the mystery of his union with Radha (as expressed in the name, for example, Radhakrishnan) has been, through the centuries following the first presentation of this work in the courts of the Pala kings, a matter of profound religious zeal.

Ode Three of the poem now tells of "Krishna Troubled":

He has departed from the Gopis and, having searched the wood for Radha, sits alone and sings in a thicket of bamboo, besides the Yamuna.

"Alas! She is gone; for I let her go! What good to me now are friends; or life? I can see her brow, angry and offended. Yet I hold her in my heart... But if I hold her in my thoughts this way, can she be actually gone?"

Ode Four is called "Krishna Cheered":

Radha's servant girl comes to Krishna and sings to him of the yearning of his mistress. "For the pleasure of your embraces, she has prepared a flowery bed. How is she to live without you? Come! for she is sick with love."

Ode Five is "Krishna's Longing":

"Tell her," said he, "that I am here."

And the girl returned to Radha with a song of urging, without shame. "He has tuned the tones of his flute to your name. Oh, go to him in desire. On a couch of tender branches, letting part your robe and girdle, offer to him the luxury of your hips with the rich treasure between of their sweet receptacle of delight. He is impatient, watching everywhere for your appearances. It is time."

Ode Six is "Krishna Made Bolder":

But the woman, ravished by love, was too weak to move. The servant girl returned, therefore, to Krishna.

"And may this poem," adds the poet Jayadeva, "give to all lovers joy!"

"She waits amid flowers; lives only in dreams of your love; wonders why you hesitate; and is kissing mirages, weeping there alone. Every leaf that falls she thinks may be you and smoothes the bde. Why, then, do you tarry here?"

Ode Seven, "Krishna Supposed False":

The moon rose, but no Krishna came; and Radha alone, lamented. "The hour has come and gone," she sighed. "Alas, I am erased from his heart!"

"But may this poem," sings Jayadeva, "live, O Reader, in your heart!"

"Another female has enmeshed him! The ornaments of her girdle chatter as she walks. Alluringly rocking with her haunches, they murmur of delight. Alas! I can see him lovingly placing pearls around her neck already branded by his nails...."

"And may Vishnu, moved by this poem, suffuse all hearts!"

Ode Eight, "Krishna Reproved":

The lover sheepishly came; and though he bowed before her feet—He, the incarnation of the Lord who lives in all beings—the earthly woman tortured him in a rage. "Those heavy eyes! From weeping? Is it not, rather, from a night of luxurious excess? Go! Disappear! Follow the traces of the one who has brought you to this fatigue! Your teeth are black with the make-up of her eyes. Your body, marked with her nails, is the document of her victory. The imprint of her teeth on your lip pains my thought. O You! Your soul is even blacker than your body. You roam the forest only to eat up girls."

"O!" sings the poet. "O you sages! Listen to these laments of a young woman's heart!"

Ode Nine. "The End of Krishna's Trial":

The servant spoke: "O my dear Radha, your beautiful lover has now come. What greater pleasure is there on earth? Why do you render useless the bounty of your breasts, heavier than coconuts, to be culled with exquisite delight> Do not despise this delicious youth. Do not weep. Love him. Eat him. Taste him, like a fruit."

"Oh, may this poem," the poet sings, "delight all lovers' hearts. And O, lovely Herdsman of Vrindavan, deign with the tones of your flute—which affect all women like a charm and break the bonds even of the gods—to remove from all of us the bondages of sorrow!"

Ode Ten, "Krishna in Paradise":

Thus pacified by her servant girl, Radha showed a gentler face; and Krishna, in the gathering dusk, spoke to her amid sighs and tears.

"The luster of your teeth, bright as the moon, scatters the darkness of my fear. The fire of desire burns in my soul: let me quench it in the honey of your lips. If you are angry, stab with your eyes, chain me in your arms, and rip me to tatters with your teeth. You are the pearl in the ocean of my being. You are the woman of my heart. Put away your fear of me, who inspired it. There is no power in my heart but love."

Eleve, "The Union of Radha and Krishna":

He moved away from her toward the flower couch she had made, and one of the Gopis present advised her.

"Dear, you are now to become his slayer. Approach with a slightly indolent walk, anklets languorously clashing, to let him know that your mood is now of sweetness. Bring to him those thighs, round as the trunks of elephants, letting your bosom be your guide, which now is yearning openly for his lips. Glofious, lovely woman, your majestic body is well equipped for this approaching night of war: march on, march on, to the drum beat of your jeweled, rocking belt; and having let the clank of your bracelets proclaim the pending attack, fall with sharp nails upon his breast. He waits—trembling, sweating there with joy. Embrace him fully in the dark of this perfect night."

Radha blushed; but the girl urged her on. "How can you be afraid of one whom you can buy as your slave for a pittance of joy, rendered as readily as a wink?"

And the woman, shining like the disk of the moon, arose in fear and delight, to move with anklets clanging toward the bower. And the Gopis who were there departed, covering their mouths to hide smiles; for she had already thrown off all shame.

Ode Last, "The God in the Saffron Garment Overwhelmed":

The Incarnation of God spoke to Radha. "Let me open that vest and press to my heart your breast, returning life to your slave who is dead." For a time they were delayed from close embrace by the honey of each other's eyes and lips; but when Radha seized the initiative, the battle of love began.

She made him captive with a sudden enciclement of arms, routed him with her bosom, mangled him with her nails and tore at his lower lip with her teeth; pummeled him with her haunches, dragged his head back by its hair, and then draowned him with the honey-mead of her throat. When her eyes closed and her breath began to come harder, however, the force of her arms relaxed and the great hip-zone grew still. The god then moved against the field. And when morning dawned, what the woman's divine lover beheld beneath him was her chest lacerated by the army of his nails, her eyes afire for lack of sleep, the color of her lips destroyed, her mashed garland tangled in her shattered hair, and her clothes dislodged from the jeweled girdle. The sight, like a volley of love's arrows, overwhelmed him.

"And—O Reader—may that god be your protection, who spread aside Radha's garment to gaze with ravished eyes upon the tumid pinnacles of her breast, while he sought to amuse her with a text from the Purana. 'When the gods and demons churned the Milky Ocean,' he said, 'for the butter of immortality, they churned for a thousand years; and there appeared first such a poisonous smoke that all operations had to cease until our greatest yogi, Shiva, took that poison into a cup and drank it off; which he held by yoga in his throat. You know, I have wondered why he did it. The poison turned his throat blue, so that we call him Blue Throat. But I think, now, that he drank because he knew, my dear, that when you came into being on the shore fo the great milky sea, you would choose for your love not him but me.'"

And Radha, languorously happly, became gradually aware of the disorder of her person: hair in disarray, sweat on her face, cuts on her breast, and her belt where it should not have been. Mortified, she started up with her mashed garland; and with one arm shielding her breats, the other at her groin, made off. When she returned fatigued in all her members, with delight and admiration she begged her lover to help repair her dress.

"Krishna, my dear one, freshen with your beloved hand the sandal powder of my chest; now, the make-up on my eyes; here, the earrings; next—and do it pretily—these flowers for my hair: paint a nice tilaka on my forehead. And so now, the belt and chain of pearls to enclose again these plump, succulent loins that have presented a narrow pass for the elephant of love."

"O Reader," sings the poet, "listen to these lines of Jayadeva with your heart!"

"Now enclose," she said, "my breasts; put the rings back on my arms...."

And her beloved did as she told him, though, indeed, he was God Himself.

"O Reader—may the Lord, protecting you, multiply in the world the signs of his omnipotence; Vishnu, the One Being of All, who has passed into a myriad of bodies, drawn by his desire to see with eyes myriadfold the lotus feet of the Daughter of the Milky Ocean! May the learned extract from this poem all that is in it of the art of those divine beings who in joy behold and celebrate the Lord! And may all those who love that Destroyer of Sorrow bear forever on their lips this song of the great Jayadeva, whose father was illustrious Banjadeva, and of whom Ramadevi was the mother."

Jayadeva was a poet. As a youth, he had been a wandering ascetic, but when a Brahmin offered his daughter, he wed; and it was after his marriage that he wrote his song of divinity in love—the god Krishna himself, we are told, lending him assistance when he was at a loss to render Radha's beauty.

But not all who wish to experience the divinity of love are endowed by nature with that quality of spirit which the troubadours called the Gentle Heart; and so, as we have writing schools for those who cannot write, there have been developed in India love schools for those who cannot love, and their scholarship is divided in three grades: 1. Beginner (pravarta), to be taught to repeat God's name (nama) and to recite certain chants (mantra); 2. Advanced Student (sadhaka), who has learned to experience "divine emotion" (bhava) and so is qualified to commence disciplines in the company of women, and finally 3. Perfected Master (sidhha), who, on realizing "loved" (prema: from the root pri, "to please, gladden, cheer; to show kindness, grace or favor; to take pleasure in"), atains through it to "bliss" (rasa: "the sap, the juice, the nectar; the taste").

There have been reports of these schools of the so-called Left Hand Path (vamacari; from the words vama, "reverse, adverse, left; bad, vile," buit also "beautiful, pleasing"; and cari, "one who goes, proceeds, or walks a path); for example, in the words of the German nineteenth-century observer, A. Barth: "The use of animal food and spiritous liquors, indulged in excess, is the rule in these strange ceremoneis, in which Shakti is worshipped in the person of a naked woman, and the proceedings terminate with the carnal copulation of the initiated, each couple representing the Bhairava and Bhairavi (Shiva and Devi), and becoming thus for the moment identified with them. This is 'the holy circle' (sri cakra) or 'the complete consecration' (purnabhiseka), the essential act or rather foretaste of salvation, the highest rite of this delirious mysticism."

The sacred texts of the Vamacharis belong to a type of religious scripture known as Tantra ("loom, web; vesture; discipline; text-book; correct way"), which date from the Gupta and later times, and are essentially technical supplements to the various Puranic scriptures of Vishnu, Shiva, and the Goddess, some being of the "right" (daksina), others of the "left hand path"; and among the instructions of the latter we read:
"I am Bhairava, the Omniscient I, endowed with qualities."
Having meditated thus, let the devotee proceed to the Kula worship.

Wine, flesh, fish, woman, and sexual congress:
These are the fivefold boons that remove all sin.
[These five "boons" are known as the Five Ms: wine (madya), meat (mamsa), fish (matsya), woman (mudra), and sexual union (maithuna). In the so-called "substitutional rites" designed for those who have been advised by their gurus to worship the goddess in the attitude rather of children than of lovers, madya becomes coconut milk, mamsa, wheat beans, ginger, sesamum, salt or garlic, matsya, red radish, red sesamum, masur (a kind of grain), the white brinjal vegetable, and the paniphala (an aquatic plant), mudra, wheat, paddy, rice, etc., and maithuna, childlike submission before the Divine Mother's Lotus Feet. — Sir John Woodroffe, Shakti & Shakta, Madras and London, Ganesh & Company, 3rd. ed., 1929. pp. 569 - 70]

In such rites the sacred object is a naked dancing girl, female devotee, harlot, washerwoman, barber's wife, Brahminical or Shudra female, flower girl, or milkmaid; and the time is to be mid-night. The party is to be formed of a circle of eight, nine or eleven couples in the roles of Bhariavas and Bhairavis. Appropriate mantras are pronounced, according to the class of person chosen to be Shakti, and she is then worshipped according to rule. She is placed, disrobed but richly ornamented, within or to the side of a circle of paired male and female devotees and by various mantras rendered pure. The radical sacred syllable of the occasion is thrice whispered in her hear; she is sprinkled over with wine, given meat, fish, and wine to bless with her touch, which then are shared; and to the tones of a symphony of sacred chanting, she then becomes the vessel of a sequence of sacramental acts preliminary to, and culminating in, the general consecration—"accompanied throughout," as H.H. Wilson writes, "with mantras and forms of meditation suggesting notions very foreign to the scene."

Other manners of worshipping the Goddess involve, as we have learned, the sacrifice of human victims and even tasting of their flesh. Still others, for the gaining of magical powers, require of an accomplished yogi that he should meditate at midnight in a cemetery, cremation ground, or place where criminals are executed, while seated on a corpse: and if he can accomplish this without fear, ghosts and female goblins will become his slaves. Erotic exercises may accompany or culminate such rites. Certain devotees "pierce their flesh with hooks and spits, run sharp pointed instruments through their tongues and cheeks, recline on beds of spikes, or gash themselves with knives." Others, called "Skull Bearers," smear themselves with ashes from a funeral pyre, hang a string of human skulls around the neck, weave their hair into matted braid, and wear a tiger skin about the loins, while bearing in the left hand a skull for a cup and in the right a bell, which is to be rung incessantly while they cry out: "Ho, the Lord and Spouse of Kali!"

Generally, the sects of the "left-hand path" repudiate caste during the sacred time of the rite. "While the Bhairava Tantra is in session all castes are Brahmins," we read in a typical text. "When it is concluded, they are again distinct." The rite is a form of yoga, a passage beyond the sphere of dharma; and indeed, to such a point that in certain variants of this worship even incest-prohibitions must be disregarded. For example, in the so-called "bodice (kanculi) cult," the female votaries at the time of worship deposit their upper vests in a box in charge of the guru, and at the close of the preliminary ceremonies each of the males takes a vest from the box and the female to whom it belongs—"be she ever so nearly kin to him"—becomes his partner for the consummation. "The object," states H.H. Wilson in his presentation of this information, "... is to confound all the ties of female alliance, and not only to enforce a community of women amongst the votaries, but to disregard even the natural restaints." For it is declared "that all men, and all women are of one caste and that their intercourse is free from fault."

"Put away the idea of two and be of one body," we read in a song in celebration of the realization of this way: "Very difficult is this discipline of love."

Both Jayadeva and the Tantric Shakti cults placed the human female in teh center of the symbolic system. The later Puranic verson of Krishna and the Gopis, on the other hand, returned the lead to the malde god and, even while adding Jayadeva's figure of Radha to the scene, expanded the rasa to an amplitude of dionysiac madness that is nowhere equaled—I believe—in the history of religious thought.

As we read in the fourteenth-century Brahmavaivarta Purana:
Within the forest, the circular place of that dance was tastefully sprinkled with aloe, saffron, sandal and musk. Numerous pleasure-lakes were in the area and gardens full of flowers; ganders, ducks, and other water fowl were swimming on the limpid surfaces; mangoes and plantain trees were all around: and Krishna, seeing that lovely glad and the cool waters in which the fatigues of passion could be laved away, smiled, and, to summon the Gopis to love, played upon his flute.

Radha, in her dwelling, hearing the melody, remained still, like a tree, her mind dissolving in one-pointed contemplation. When she recovered, hearing the sound of the flute again, she was extremely agitated. She got up. She sat down. Then, forgetting all her duties, she went rushing from the house and, glancing in all directions, hastened toward the point of sound, with the lotus feet of Krishna ever in mind. The luster of her body and hsimmer of her jewels illumined the forest.

And the other Gopis also, her thirty-three companions, hearing the flute, were assailed with passion and, forgetting hosewifely duties, made for the forest—the best of their race. They were equal in age, beauty, and dress, and were accompanied, each by a following of many thousand: Sushila by sixteen thousand, Sashikala fourteen thousand, Chandramukhi thirteen thousand, Madhavi eleven thousand, etc. to the sum of nine hundred thousand. Many had garlands in their hands, others sandal, others fly-whisks, others musk; many carried gold, others saffron, others cloth. Along they way the sang out the name of Krishna, and when they reached the place of the dance, what they saw was lovelier than heaven, radiant with the pure light of the moon.

A gentle breeze carried the perfume of the flowers, bees were everywhere humming, and the cooing of the cuckoos would have seduced the hearts of saints. The women were discomposed. And the Lord Krishna saw with delight that Radha, like a jewel in the midst of her company, was approaching with arch glances. Her alluring walk, majestic as the gait of an elephant, would have unseated the mind of a yogi; for she was in the prime of her youth, ravishing, with loins and buttocks wonderfully great. The color of her skin was of the champak blossom; her visage was the autumn moon; her gleaming hair was held in place by a wreath of redolent jasmine; and when she saw that the youthful Krishna, beautifully dark, was observing her, she bashfully screened her face with the hem of her garment, yet returned his glance, again and again, and smitten deeply by Love's arrow, felt such a thrill of rapture that she nearly swooned.
But Krishna, too, was smitten. The flute, as well as a lotus with which he had been toying, dropped from his hand, and he stood as though turned to stone. Even the clothing dropped from his body. Yet in a trice, he recovered his wits, went to Radha, and embraced her, his touch restoring her strength. And the lord of her life, dearer than that life to her, then led her aside, the two continually kissing; and they proceeded to a pleasure house of flowers where they teased each other for a while, exchanging masticated betel from their mouths. But when she had swalled what he had given, he asked to have it back and she became afraid, prostrating herself at his feet. Whereupon Krishna, full of love, his countenance radiant with desire, was joined with her on a flowery couch of delight.

Eight kinds of sexual intercourse—reverse and otherwise—Krishna, master of delights, practiced with his pulchritudinous Radha, scratching, biting, kissing, slapping, in all the ways known to love's science—ways that rob women of their minds. And with all the others too, simultaneously, Krishna rapturously was delighting himself, embracing every member of their imapssioned bdoies with his equally fervid libs. Since he and Radha were savants of this pleasant sexual art, their war of love knew no intermission; yet even as they worked there, Krishna, assuming identical forms, entered into every chamber and enjoyed the bodies of the Gopis in the glorious sphere of the dance. Nine hundred thousand Gopis thus were enjoyed by as many cowherds, the full number of those there in rapture coming to one million eight hundred thousand. Everybody's hair was loose, clothing shattered, ornaments gone. The whole place resouned with bracelets, and mad with passion, everyone fainted. Then having done what they could on land, all headed for the lakes. And with these gambols they were presently exhausted. Whereupon thjey came out of the waters, put on their clotehs, studied their faces in mirrors of gem, and after having applied sandal to their bodies, aloe, musk, and perfume, put on wreaths and were restored to their normal states.

One need not go on to make the point. The dance continues for two more chapters; for, when it finally came to its height, the gods with their wives and companies, in golden cars, came together in the heavens to watch. Sages, saints, adepts, and the honored dead, the heavenly singers and nymphs, earth-demons, ogres, and various birdlike beings, gathered joyfully with their wives to see the great sight while in thirty-three forests for thirty-three days Krishna and his Gopis danced and sang, tore off each other's clothes, engaged in many more than the usual sixteen authorized typoes fo sexual intercourse—passions mounting all the while, "like fire fed with clarified butter"—and when everything was done, the gods and goddesses, much amazed, eulogized the sight and retired to their homes.

However, the goddesses, who had fainted many times during the course of what they had seen, desiring knowledge of the master of the dance of Vrindavan, descended to earth and throughout India, were born as little girls in the palaces of kings.
COPYRIGHT Joseph Campbell, "The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology", 1962. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 59-8354. Chapter 6, section iv., "The Way of Delight", pages 343 - 364.

Comments & Notes

By Lúcio Mascarenhas
  1. The West has gone mad, lusting after the vileness of the pagan East, spuring Christ and the God of Israel. Indeed, is not the Pharisaical Judaism of today, constructed on the rejection and murder of the Messias, itself not gone mad, lusting after the lies of Babylon, in those vile books, the Talmuds, and in the sytem of Kabbalah?

    Therefore, Joseph Campbell does not have any compunction is blaspheming boldly, attributing to the demon Krishna, the name of "Lord" and "God", for which the accursed wretch will certainly burn for eternity in hell!

    I have retained the text as written by this vile reprobate for purposes of maintaining its originality.

  2. Antinomianism, anyone? Remember Gandhi's song and dance over the antinomianism of a faction of the Plymouth Brethren, an English Protestant sect? And yet, was Gandhi himself not an ardent devotee and apologist for this same Krishna, Patron-Exemplary of fornicators and adulterors?

  3. Sacred writings? If this is "sacred writings", pray, what is the Decameron? If this is sacred writings, the most holy men on earth in our time must by Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt!

  4. See this account to understand Buddhism's sexual exploitation of women etc of pre-liberated Tibet:

  5. See "Kanchalia Dharma", "Bodice Cult" in modern Hinduism and Hindu hypocritical objection to St. Valentine's Day — Protocols of Hindu Hypocrisy.

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