Tuesday, 14 July 2009

SONG OF RADHA, THE MILKMAID ---text and critical study by Mandira Chattopadhyaya

I carried my curds to the Mathura fair…
How softly the heifers were lowing…
I wanted to cry, “Who will buy
The curds that is white as the clouds in the sky
When the breezes of Shravan are blowing?”
But my heart was so full of your beauty, Beloved,
They laughed as I cried without knowing:
Govinda! Govinda!
Govinda! Govinda!
How softly the river was flowing!
I carried the pots to the Mathura tide…
How gaily the rowers were rowing!
My comrades called, “Ho! Let us dance, let us sing
And wear saffron garments to welcome the spring.
And pluck the new buds that are blowing.”
But my heart was so full of your music, Beloved,
They mocked when I cried without knowing:
Govinda! Govinda!
Govinda! Govinda!
How gaily the river was flowing!
I carried my gifts to the Mathura shrine…
How brightly the torches were glowing!
I folded my hands at the altars to pray
“O shining ones guard us by night and by day”-
And loudly the conch shells were blowing.
But my heart was so lost in your worship, Beloved,
They were wroth when I cried without knowing:
Govinda! Govinda!
Govinda! Govinda!
How bright the river was flowing!
Substance of the poem
Radha, the milkmaid is carrying curds to Mathura (Krishna’s
birthplace) where the spring festival is going on. Cows are lowing
softly in the fields. Radha, wishing to give out her trade cry to sell
her curds that is as white as the autumn clouds, instead, calls out My
Lord! My Lord! Everybody laughs. The river Jamuna flows on softly, as
if appreciating her chant.
Radha reaches the bank of the river to cross by the ferry boat. Her
female companions want to wear the saffron garments, the color of
spring, and want to sing and dance and pluck the new buds. Radha’s
heart swells with the music of her Beloved Lord Krishna. She cries in
ecstasy when others humor her. The river Jamuna flows on joyfully
regardless.
Radha reaches, with her gifts of curds, the temple, where the torches
are brightly burning. She folds her hands to pray to the deity,
encircled by snakes, and prays for protection while the conch shells
are blown. Her heart is lost to the vision of her Beloved Lord and she
calls out the name involuntarily. Others become angry. But the river
Jamuna flows on while her water dazzles in the light of the torches.
A critical estimate of the poem
The title of the poem transports us to another world, to an
environment of fertility and abundance. Mother Nature abounds the
earth with the flow of her liquid. This white liquid symbolizes
affection and nurturing of life. Radha, the daughter of Mother Nature
carries the liquid of life and growth to all living beings. Mathura is
her destination where Krishna, the Divine Musician holds everybody
mesmerized with his mystic presence. The heifers herald her arrival to
Mathura where she will pour into the pots the liquid which she has
brought- energy and power from the mother Earth. It is worth noticing
that Sita, the other daughter of mother Earth also represents all that
stand for productivity.
Mathura is here the center of life and abundance. While the cow is the
species, that represents the flow of life and abundance. Radha feeds
and nurtures life. Even the clouds in the sky, white and creamy, are
part of the resources of life. The clouds and breeze together produce
rain to awash the earth with the energy and moisture that coaxes the
dormant vitality into life energy. The time of the year should also be
noted. It is the time of incessant rain, the month of Shravan (August-
September), when the life- giving moisture bursts forth.
Radha’s heart wavers from her task in hand. She yearns for her union
with Divine Musician, a presence that encompasses every soul of
Mathura. She is absorbed, heart and mind, in his mystic presence and
the trade cry she is supposed give out does not come to her lips- only
the name of Govinda, the Omnipresent, the Omniscient and the
Omnipotent, coming spontaneously from her heart, reverberates. The
poet, here, juxtaposes the two conceptions, the flowing of the river
and Radha’s yearning for a communion with Krishna.
Radha is presented in the poem in the first person. In the first
stanza she refers to the commodity she is carrying. Her mind is
somewhat attached to the earthly duties and nature of her work. Even
in her surroundings she hears the cry of the heifers, an animal she
connects with her trade. In the second stanza, her mind is drawn
towards the joy and gaiety of nature. She feels the abundance in her
heart Life is flowing everywhere.

Dear Mantu
We are nown drawn to Indian English literature and your
attempt at decoding Sarojini is a wonderful effort to that end Yes
Indian English literature could be successful only when India
breathes through the language of the Teutonic school and here is an
instance of success Ihave read your substance and critical comments
with great interest and I have a few reflections on the poem that I
submit before you

Firstly Idont think that there is any clue in the text wherefrom we
could infer that Krishna is at Mathura when Radha comes there


Secondly though Vrindavan has not been mentoioned here it is clear
that Radha comes from elsewhere to Mathura to sell her milk product
She comes from the other side of Jamuna
She comes from her village Mathura is a trade centre and town The poem
on the surface dwells on a maid who comes to the town for selling milk
product But her head is full of Govinda So instead of paying attention
to her getting and spending and instead of giving her trade cry with
gusto she unaware of herself cries aloud the name Govinda her
sweetheart A wonderful portrait of a loveladen heart of a village girl
Methinks the the heifers donot low at the place fair at Mathura They
lowed whhen she was carrying her milk product and setting out for
Mathura Then the Jamuna and the boat journey with her comrades and
finally at Mathura at the fair and at the temple Thus four vignettes
one after another pass by before our minds eye The prayer at the
temple is very touching Because it is for achieving nothing great May
all the gods protect us That is all Just as the naive boatman when
encounters the godhead incarnated as goddess Annapurna in
Bharatchandra only prays that her should remain well fed That is all
These simple folks are very much unlike us They dont want to be a
scholar or a scientist or a president Bush Me thinks that the truly
Indian attitude towards life along with the breeze of the month of
Shravan blows through the poem Mind you the poem has some riddles in
it to ponder over The curds are as white as the clouds in the clear
sky But the time when Radha crosses the Jamuna is Shravan when there
no white clouds But Radha fails to announce the good quality of her
curds Because the blue clouds of the month of Shravan seem to engross
her Again it is Shravan to Radha when her comrades want to don
saffron robes in harmony with the spring time So many seasons at the
same time draws my attention Thuis all the seasons are subjective
Jamuna flows between the place where Radha stays and the place where
Radha works for money Jamuna is a chasm between the two worlds ----one
where love reigns and the other where exchange reigns


The way you have interpreted milk is quite convincing Indeed it is
from the villages that energy flows to rejuvenate the life in the
cities


On another level Go vinda might mean the centre of the earth or
universe or the source of all light Of course Radha is the symbol of
the earth Her heart is full of the longing for the skies There you
read the myth of Gaia and Ourania Dyaus and Prithivi And you have
legitimately brought Sita and Radha together.
Regards
Ramesh


Dear Mandira,
The beautiful poem -Songs of Radha the Milkmaid that you have
selected from Sarojini Naidu's book of poems incites me to share something.
I, myself am very much fond of *Kirtana *-the art form that sings basically
the lila of Radha and Krishna,particularly the *Biraha *portion when Krishna
left Radha in Brindavan and himself went to Mathura to perform another duty
and activities.Radha remained ever engrossed in the thoughts of Krishna and
waited for his return. Whenever any cart etc. came from Mathura she rushed
there in the hope that her beloved must have come back .But in vain. The
love-lorn Radha became more sad. I am giving below a song that portrays this
in a poignant manner;


Piya tora kaisa abhiman


Saghana sawan laye kadama bahar


Mathura se doli laye charo kahar


Nahi aye nahi aye Kesaria balma hamar


Angana bara sunsan


Apne nayan se neer bahaye


Apne Yamuna khud aphi banaye


Lakh bar usme nahaya


Pura na hoi asnan


Phir pura na hoi asnan


Sukhe kesh rukhe besh Manua bejaan




In this backdrop I would like to give my interpretation.Radha had not
actually gone to Mathura .Rather in her inner mind flashed what would happen
had she gone to Mathura fair, Mathura tide,Mathura shrine respectively. In
the Mathura fair she would sell her curd.As Radha did not have any idea
about the life style of Mathura -the capital city,hence she imagined that
heifers would be there and they were lowing softly in the hope of the union
of Radha and Krishna as they had done in Brindavan. Radha would not sell
milk;in its stead curd. Why? Because her love for Krishna that hand turned
from milk to curd in the absence of Krishna/Gobinda .But it remained as pure
and white as the white cloud of the sky.But mind that though Shravan breeze were
blowing yet the cloud was white. How is it possible? As because Krishna was
not with Radha hence there was Shravan breezes blowing in her mind/sky
.Radha would sell her product only to Krishna Her mind was full of pure love
for Krishna;( i.e.. the white cloud). After shower the sky becomes clear. So
happened in case of Radha's mind. Unaware she uttered Gobinda! Gobinda. And
even when her friends might laugh at her her pent up thoughts were released
and her mind got a relief.Her conscious mind /the river started flowing
softly.


The other two stanzas may be similarly explicated. I resist myself to do
that.


Does it seem to be too far fetched .With love and with the hope to hear more
from you. Dipika
Dear Dipikadi,

Thank you very much for your own interpretation of the poem. You are
wonderfully lyrical and your point of view has added dimensions to the
simple village girl's vision of her divine Beloved. Please write your
point of view on the other two stanzas too.


best wishes
Mondira



In the second stanza, Radha imagined that she went to Mathura with her
pot. Within the pot Radha might have taken her love ,her longing for Krishna
The imagery of pot at once reminds us of the individual body that separates
us/here Radha from the union of our own god /Krishna. As soon as the earthen
pot breaks there will be the eternal union. In this context, the
word Mathura tide has a special import. Just as due to the attraction of the
Moon there comes the high tide in the river,similarly Radha's mind and body-
her heart and breast swelled up being attracted to Mathura where her beloved
resides. But as high tide and ebb tide come and go in alternate
manner,similarly Radha's emotion, feelings and demeanour changed- now elated
and the next moment depressed. While she thought of her union with Krishna
there came the high tide. And there was all mirth and merriment. Merrily merrily
the rowers, that is, her sweet memories were passing. There was abundance
and abandon .At once spring came forth. Radha Krishna's union is always
associated with her *sakhis *-the comrades like the asto sakhis-Lolita
,Bisakha etc. Hence there appeared the comrades in colourful dresses .
They were dancing, singing,plucking new buds to make garlands to greet the
two beloved ones- Radha and Krishna.The new buds were blowing.How? There air
blew gently. With this the flower plants also moved. As if the whole Nature
took part and was happy with the union of Radha and Krishna. The entire
stage bacame colouful and moving with coloufully clad comrades
dancing,singing along with ever blowing new buds on the plants as well as on
the hands of the sakhis. The sakhis wanted to wear saffron coloured dress.
Why? Because Krihna was not there. At once the colour reminds us the Hindu
sanyasi/nies who used to wear saffron coloured dress. This is the colour of
mensturation of the holy mother. This colour means detachment from the hurly
burly of the mundane world. And so Radha could not take part in any paltry
day to day activity and not in any mirth and merry. At once we can hear the
unheard sound -Krihna se to nei nei re. The ebb tide- the depressed mood of
Radha prevailed .Her ears always heard Krishna's music-Yeno nishi din murali
dhani suni /Ujan bohe prem Yamunari bari /Nupuro hoye yano he
Bonochari/Chorono jaraye dhore kandite pari/ Mamo madhuro minati sono
Ganashyama Giridhari….And Radha could not but cry out and utter
Gobinda! Gobinda! The pent up emotion at once got released .And Radha's mind
became relaxed .And so did the river flow gaily.The high tide came
instantly.





In the third stanza we find Radha in a different mood. All passion being
spent there was calm in mind.and in such a state on mind Radha imagined to
visit the Mathura shrine.Rather now Radha was in a position to visit the
Mathura shrine. If in the 1st stanza Radha 's conscious thoughts were
described , it was on the surface level because the heifar used to gaze on
the surface. and Radha's thoughts were moving softly like the soft lowing of
the cows. But as soon as Radha uttered the word Gobinda her thoughts could
delve deeper Her stream of consciousness started to flow softly . Thus then
at once the setting changed from the land to river. In the 2nd stanza
her thoughts went deeper. May be it touched the pre-conscious level
.Because there in the 2nd stanza in the dream like situation Radha could
face her carnal desire towards Krishna. The imagery of pot, the buds , the
dancing ,singing river water with high tide and ebb tide etc. all are
suggetive to something associated with sexual acts. See, Inthe first
stanza Radha 's mind was full of Krishna's beauty. Here she was con cerned
of her beloved's physical charm. But then the rowers came and rowed gaily
and they were all mirth and mery ( may be Physical /sexual enjoyment were
imaginatively faced.) To face a desire four square means to become free
of it. That is why in the second stanza Radha's Mind became free from
Physical desire rather she was concerned about Krishna's sound.But the
river i.e. the stream of conscous now moved gaily. The charm of sight and
sound cannot last long. Hence shorn of carnal desires Radha's love now can
have the power to submit herself totally to her Beloved. Now neither her
mind nor her body was disturbed . They had been burnt up and thereby
emitting light and thus acting as torches. Radha's was now fit to meditate.
Hence Radha in her mind went to the shrine. There she could find those
bright lamps of pure love that gathered their brightness through penance.
She with folded hands prayed not for herself but for us-the humanity as a
whole; may be for all sentient and insentient odjects under the Sun. She
asked not the union of Krishna but the well being of all and sundry by day
and night.When those pure lights protect, who could dare to do any harm?
Such catholicity of mind was at once applauded by gods also and the sound
of conch-shell was heard as a sign of it..( May be this was the sound of
Panchajanya -the conch shell that Krishna blew in the Kurukshetra at the
begining of the battle). But now it was blown to declare that Radha had
successfully over come her mean self-centred desires and she became
victorious.But the desires, which were termed as Mara in the Buddhist
literature, may be here personified .So they( the personified
desires) were wroth just after the sound of the conch-shell odviouly they
were annoyed as because they were defeated in their schemes to ensnare
Radha. And unknowingly Radha uttered Govinda! Govinda! And her stream of
consciosness shorn of all impurities became a river of bright light.T his
imagery of brightness reminds me the story of Ahalya who became bright
through her penance when Ram visited her ( in Valmiki)/touched his feet ( in
Krittivasa) on the place where Ahalya stayed and observed penance . Hard
Penance made Ahalya a woman to be remembered every morning as per Hindu
Sastra. Similarly Radha the eternal consort of Krisna is being worshipped
through out Northen India for her selfless pure love for Krishna. Because
now onwards ,we may easily guess thatRadha's heart will ever remain lost in
Krishna's worship in contrast of her earlier heart full of krishna's beauty,
then her full of his music in the 1st two stanzas. We may easily imagine
that now she can sit years after years in a meditative mood with her heart
lost in Krishna's worship . It is said that even today also Radha is waiting
in Brindavan for her Beloved Krishna.

Dear Dipikadi,

Your interpretation of the poem is absolutely wonderful. Your
consciousness plays on a level which is impossible to reach without
deep study and imbibing the process for years and years. I'm very
happy that you are helping me to think correctly.
Thank you and pranam

Thank you Mandira for such compliment. This is nothing but psychological
paradigm that I used to explicate the poem.
This poem itself is wonderful and very much thought provoking. It can be
interpreted in various ways if we little bit ponder over it. Last night
(after finishing and sending it to you all) Mandira I thought that this may
be interpreted as the three stages of sadhan bhajan. At the first stage
one is concerned about the demeanour of one's *istadevata*. So one
washes oneself , wears clean dress and follows rituals in puja in some
cases *phota kate, tilak kate*. Being listless of fellowmen/women s/he utters /sings *istanam
*. But in the second stage one's heart is full of the the sound of
one's god. Hence one also utters the name always like Ratnakar, Mirabai,
etc. In the third stage one is so much engrossed in the god that one can
visualise one's *istadevata*. His /her heart is full of the prayer-(call it
ajapa jop )And in this stage the sadhak/sadhikas write/sing for us the
common rung for our betterment. Hence the blind Surdasa composed , Mirabai sang
,Valmiki depicted what would happen in future and god himself finished
the couplet for Jaydev.
This is my own feelings. Seem to be too far off the mark?
With love
Dipika


Dipikadi,

Your beautiful thoughts are treasure to us.
Mondira

Dipikadi and Mondiradi,
The beautiful poems of Sarojini Naidu and their interpretations are
splendid. Your write ups created a soothing effect to their readers. I am
feeling that I am in Mathura observing Radha in eternal ecstasy. Similarly,
the discussions on the Goddess of wealth are real wealth of Sefirah.
Best Wishes
Mousumi

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