Author: Madhulika Acharya, Bengaluru
Krishna is the magical hero who has captured the hearts of every scholar, artiste and common man alike by multilayered personality. The evergreen hero, Krishna, figures foremost in Indian scriptures and stories. Inspired thus, his popularity has spread over every subject for many centuries and will continue to do so. Every person smitten by his charisma has tried to understand Krishna is his/her own way. One can only try because it is truly an illusion to think that he has been completely understood! Still, the endless attempts continue and it becomes possible only because of his enigmatic persona.
This particular article explores one aspect of this endearing Krishna – as a hero in love. In this research paper, an extract of the MPhil dissertation submitted by the researcher is being presented. The element of Krishna as a Śŗngāra Nāyaka is being dealt with. The major findings of the research are highlighted in this article.
Krishna has existed in the beliefs of India since time immemorial. Krishna’s influence over the art forms is truly unparalleled. While we say art forms, we are referring to the Fine arts which comprise of Music, Literature, Dance, Theatre, Visual arts and Sculpture; more specifically Dance. The bedrock of every art form is Rasa. It is the aesthetic pleasure and a truly surreal experience that is derived from the enjoyment and appreciation of arts. The concept of Rasa is familiar to artistes of all genres alike.
The bliss known as Rasa is expressed and experienced through the medium of individual sentiments. When we look at various treatises and texts on the subject, Rasa is said to be of many types. A detailed analysis of the concept of Rasa seems to have appeared in Bharata’s Nāţyaśāstra for the first time. The complete process of Rasa synthesis – its nature, elements, production, types and more are found here. Thus we have the Ashţarasas – Śŗngāra (erotic), Hāsya (comic), Karuņa (pathetic), Raudra (furious), Vīra (heroic), Bhayānaka (terrible), Bībhatsa (odious) and Adbhuta (marvelous). Many aestheticians have added their understanding of the concept of rasa over the years. A 9th rasa as known as the Śānta rasa (quietist) is also now included in this gamut.
Krishna’s persona allows one to visualize him in each of the above rasas, rather, visualize each of the rasas in Krishna’s persona and his stories. Our focus however is on the Śŗngāra rasa or the sentiment of love and beauty in relation to Krishna. Śŗngāra is an evergreen sentiment and also the most relatable one.
It is the mutual love between a man and a woman which inspires and influences many aspects of one’s life. It is characterized by the existence of a Nāyaka and a Nāyika, i.e. the male and the female protagonist respectively.
Objectives of the study
In the case of dance, a majority of the portrayal of the Śŗngāra rasa is dominated by the Nāyika concept. It is imperative to understand that the Nāyaka and Nāyika share a cause and effect relationship and thus a study of the Nāyaka is indispensable. Even so in the case of Krishna, one needs to understand his personality in order to portray him justifiably; for, Krishna as a Śŗngāra Nāyaka is unique and special with every Nāyika.
In the actual performance of the theme of Krishna’s love, the understanding of Krishna as a lover is many times limited only to the beauty of his form. Krishna is a lover who transcends all limitations of the outward appearances in spite of his matchless beauty and becomes an ideal lover. This aspect of his tends to get overlooked. One focusses on depicting Krishna and his greatness rather than looking at him as a hero who is in love and hence must behave in harmony with the Nāyika. At some other times, the Nāyika is highlighted without much notice of the Nāyaka, Krishna; irrespective of how the Nāyika is, Krishna’s behavior and reactions are depicted in a repetitive and casual manner. This must not be the portrayal because Krishna’s behavior with every Nāyika is different. Although plenty of sources from the literature available on Krishna suggest this fact, it is seldom practiced in dance. Hence, the study that was conducted aimed to look at Krishna’s manner as a Śŗngāra Nāyaka with different Nāyikas keeping various dance compositions as the basis. Thus the research questions were as follows,
Based on these queries the hypothesis to guide the study was framed.
“Krishna is seen as the ideal Nāyaka for any Nāyika. His nature and the Nāyika’s nature along with the situation/circumstance suggested in the composition determine his behavior as a Śŗngāra Nāyaka. Krishna, being the ideal man, it is possible to generalize the concepts derived from the understanding of Krishna as a Śŗngāra Nāyaka to any other category of Nāyaka.”
The most important aspects of Krishna as a Śŗngāra Nāyaka are dealt with in this work. There are very many categories of Nāyaka according to the chosen 3 treatises of Nāţyaśāstra, Daśarūpaka and Rasamanjari. Around 12 major classifications of Nāyakas and innumerable more with a permutation-combination of the above can be found. However, these categories are not discussed here. It can however be safely said that Krishna can fall under any of the Nāyaka categories; such is the vastness of his personality as hero in love.
Review of Literature
Krishna and Śŗngāra are popular themes and hence plenty of work has been done keeping them at the center, both individually and collaboratively. The most important literary sources that were reviewed and propelled the study forward were translations of the Nāţyaśāstra, Daśarūpaka and Rasamanjari for the concepts of Rasa, Śŗngāra and Nāyaka-Nāyika categories; the Bhāgavata, Vyāsa Mahābhārata and Bhagavadgīta for the understanding of Krishna’s personality.
Although many of the works may not be dealing with the concerned subject in those many words, each of them and many more literary works – one can say almost all of them – have most certainly dealt with Krishna’s Śŗngāra. It is such an inevitable part of his persona that one cannot afford to overlook it. However, none of the works have looked at Krishna as a Śŗngāra Nāyaka specifically in the area of dance with compositions as the basis and aesthetics as the approach. It is here that the research had its significance. The understanding of Krishna as a unique Nāyaka in Śŗngāra in the arena of dance was explored through the research.
Once the purpose was clear, the major work was related to first Research question which aimed at understanding how Krishna behaved with different Nāyikas and what made him behave differently with each of them. Whether he could be generalized to other categories of Nāyakas would be an offshoot outcome.
The study was Qualitative and Analytical. Various dance compositions were analyzed in order to understand Krishna as a Śŗngāra Nāyaka. The first step was to arrive at Krishna’s character sketch which was executed with the help of the Bhāgavata purāņa, the epic Mahābhārata and the Bhagavadgīta where the stories of Krishna were used to understand his personality. Post this, the various categories of Nāyakas and Nāyikas were explained in detail. The data was collected with the help of interviews of artistes and literary sources. Seven compositions were chosen for the analysis.
The actual analysis was executed with Aesthetic concepts as the basis. Rasa being the base for both poetry and dance, it was the most important concept for the study. The components of Rasa i.e. the Sthāyi bhāva, the Vibhāvas (both Uddīpana and Ālambana), the Vyabhicāri bhāvas and the variety of Śŗngāra Rasa found in the each of the composition was explained.
Every composition had an exclusive chart where both the giving end and the receiving end of the lyrics were noted; meaning to say – the Vakrōkti and Dhvani respectively. The actual words and phrases in the composition that are used to express Śŗngãra were noted as the Vakrōkti or Oblique expression while the extraordinary meanings that were drawn out from the words (Vakrōkti) that gave scope for the researcher to grasp the hidden meaning and gave scope for imagination become the Dhvani or Suggested meaning. In the light of this methodology, every composition was analyzed and conclusions drawn.
Limitations of the study
With relation to compositions, every composition has a musical element to it which is important for the poem itself and is also vital for the dance form that adopts it. Yet, it is only the literary aspect of the composition that is being considered for the analysis. The compositions chosen were free from any language or time barriers of either the composer or the art form.
Every composition was chosen from one of the classical dances, excepting Kathakali due to its dramatic structure of literature. The Āngika of various classical dance forms in relation to Krishna was not dealt with in this research work.
Detailing of each of the compositions has not been made in this article; however, a gist of the conclusions and how Krishna’s behavior became evident is being discussed here.
None of the composition analysis and results was generalized to any particular genre of the composition or the dance form. For example – the conclusions drawn post the analysis of an Ashţapadi and how we see Krishna there does not say that Krishna will be seen in the exact same way in all Ashţapadis; nor can it be said that it is only this shade of Krishna we see in Odissi. Thus, the conclusions drawn are to be understood only with reference to that particular composition which has been analyzed. The study only used various classical dance compositions as data for understanding Krishna as a Śŗngāra Nāyaka.
Although there are many ways of approaching the subject and there are limitations, since the analysis is backed by a methodological and aesthetic approach, the conclusions drawn do not suffer.
Gist of the research findings
When we say Krishna, countless questions and ideas latch itself to that name and personality. Did he really exist or is the Krishna legend only a fantasy? Is Krishna God or Human? In the case of Krishna’s Śŗngāra, is there the element of Bhakti and how is it different from Śŗngāra? Do the other rasas also have a place along with Śŗngāra? Are all Krishna’s acts justified? Many more queries arise in an inquisitive mind. Truly, each of these can become a detailed article in itself. However, for a better understanding of the forthcoming statements, we can encapsulate the answers as – It is far beyond the intellect to actually frame Krishna within some boundaries. He is only to be experienced. Krishna was the one who captured the humanness ingrained in the divine as brilliantly as he showed the divinity of simplest of human activities.
Krishna is God in the human form or a Human who is godly by nature. He is both and yet beyond both. As renowned scholar, Dr R.Ganesh has justly framed it; Krishna is “daivam mānuśa rūpēņa”. (Ganesh 2014)
Whether Krishna is fact or fantasy becomes immaterial because he lives in the very life and breath of every individual. His existence is way beyond the boundaries of the scriptures, the stories, the paintings, the songs, the dances and is deep within the hearts of the people. With respect to Krishna’s Śŗngāra, it is very difficult to demarcate the Bhakti and Śŗngāra elements, they complement and coexist with each other. They differ only at the level of expression and not the level of experience.
All emotions and sentiments find a place in Krishna’s Śŗngāra Nāyakatva. They all become transitory emotions that aid in enhancing the experience of Rasa. His acts are all with a purpose of establishing Dharma, i.e. righteousness; his behavior helped or eventually would help in elevating the Nāyika and stabilizing the faith that she had in her approach to Krishna or in the way she chose to see him.
“To this day, Krishna is the embodiment of love, divine and erotic.” (Mulchandani 2007:43)
Krishna was always a man who thought way ahead of the time and the situation present and at all times saw the bigger picture in everything. Countless times throughout his life, his foresight has been witnessed. Krishna possessed a loving, selfless and humble nature, a tactful behavior; he performed thoughtful deeds and understood the true nature of people. His focus was always the universal good. Krishna had no attachments.
He remained untouched by any favorable or unfavorable situation and yet resolved issues. All these reflected in his behavior as a lover too. He was a passionate and unconditional lover. He had the capacity to find his way into a person’s innermost self and so was the case with all the Nāyikas – he saw more in each of their natures and behavior than they themselves knew or imagined.
“Krishna is seen to be a many sided man who lived a rich and varied life.” (Rajaram 2006:35)
With this idea of Krishna, an assortment of dance compositions from various classical dances was chosen to test the hypothesis. The compositions comprised of – a Ţhumri, Kēli gōpāl, Jāvaĺi, Padam, a part of Vasant rās called Abēr khēl, a part of Bhāmākalāpam and an Ashţapadi.
Each composition presented a unique shade of Krishna’s love. Some compositions were as if directly spoken by Krishna, some like a narration from a third person’s point of view and some from the Nāyika’s perspective; hence, it was understood that it is not always necessary that Krishna be actually present in the composition – he can either be Pratyaksha or Parōksha.
Krishna is capable of appearing to each person the way they wish to see him. This becomes the most important feature in understanding Krishna as a Śŗngāra Nāyaka, for the reason that, it determines his behavior and actions based on who the heroine is and how she visualizes her Nāyaka, Krishna.
The most significant finding is that Krishna responds to the Nāyika depending on how she has approached him, to be more specific, it depends on her nature and personality. This idea is vindicated by the aphorism – “Whatever celestial form a devotee (craving for some worldly object) chooses to worship with reverence, I stabilize the faith of that particular devotee in that very form.” (The Bhagavadgita 2007:74-75)
The Ţhumri – “ďagar calat dēkho śyām, kar gahiyān”, posed a situation where the Nāyika is saying that Krishna has been playing pranks on her and so she desires to take revenge on him by dressing him up as a woman. A highly symbolic idea; the Nāyika wants to make Krishna realize her plight and her deepest desires. A unique portrayal of Sambhōga Śŗngāra is found.
In some situations, Krishna is amused at the playfulness of the Nāyika and responds in a naughty playful manner, tugging at her garment, throwing colors and water, playing hide and seek when she is desperately looking for him and so on; while she decided to capture him and dress him up top to toe in feminine attire. In response to the Nāyika who desired to get even with him, Krishna becomes an Anukūla Nāyaka (favorable hero) who gave in to her desires and actions and allowed himself to be dressed as a woman. He showed that he could don any attire to please those who love him. Even in his troublemaker self, he can be delicate and gentle becomes clear. Here, the Nāyika finds joy in seeing Krishna in a particular way (as a woman), and he offers himself to her in that way.
In the Kēli gōpāl – “ramayā koru madana khela”, we find a detailed depiction of the Rāslīla incident mentioned in the Bhāgavata. Here the Nāyikas are many in number, they are the gōpis. So is the case with the Abēr khēl – “sānā…iďi sri govindaga sakhi singa loilāna”, Krishna’s responsiveness and the truly ideal characteristics of a Nāyaka are seen in his dalliances with the gōpis in both the compositions. The attachment of the gōpis towards Krishna was only for supreme happiness and hence, they experience joy and receive the same delight from Krishna as well. He sports with them because they are unselfish and innocent and totally deserve his attention. We are aware that he pleases the Nāyika who has surrendered herself to him; this is unmistakably experienced in the above two compositions where the most prominent Nāyikas to receive Krishna’s unbounding love are the gōpis. They were bereft of any ego and unconditionally loved Krishna. Krishna’s behavior with them was such that each felt he is sporting with her alone. Each of Krishna’s Nāyikas felt like a Svādhīnapatika.
To the Nāyikas who radiated unblemished love, he rid them of any attachments and inhibitions. The Nāyikas who gave their pure, immaculate butter-like hearts to Krishna had it stolen by the adorable butter-thief Krishna. Yet he never had any attachment towards any of them. He was in them, amongst them and beyond them – all at the same time. Some gōpis desired his touch, some his voice, some his company and so on. Understanding each of these requirements, Krishna justly reciprocated. His Sattva guņas and Uttama Nāyaka stature underscored the compositions.
The Padam – “taruņijnyān endu ceyyu hanta māmakadayinennē marannō”, depicts a Nāyika who is in deep despair due to separation from Krishna. She wonders why of all the women she alone has to be the victim of despair; why the other Nãyikas are more fortunate than her to enjoy the company of Krishna and so on. Krishna is not very responsive here. However, we can attribute a situation where he is waiting for when the Nāyika would surrender to him; a situation where she sheds her ego and allows him to approach her.
Being loved by Krishna is bound to give some Nāyikas a feeling of superiority, here, Krishna makes them realize the meaning of true love; that love is about giving and that the complete loss arrogance indicates the victory of Śŗngāra.
The Jāvaĺi – “ciţikevēsite nī vanţi celulu laksha padivēle”, presents a rare side of Krishna’s – the one that punishes any act which is inappropriate. Here the Nāyika who did not perform her duties, she was callous, deceitful and haughty and thus receives a full blow of Krishna’s ire and disapproval. Krishna is not the man to be fooled by such behavior of the Nāyika and is bound to be harsh and teach her a lesson for her behavior. Such a Nāyika is blind to Krishna’s nature and love and she must be elevated from her inferior state. Krishna’s intolerance towards arrogance and immoral activities is seen in such situations of Śŗngāra. He dons the role of a corrector by trying to mend her wrong doings. In response to such a Nāyika, we see the Nāyaka who is quarrelsome and devoid of compassion. She disregards a Krishna who had approached her and he responds in condemnation to her behavior. Like her, he too appears as an egotistical man who thinks that no Nāyika can possibly refuse his company.
The part of Bhāmākalāpam – “okōoka nāďu paďakaţinţilo hamsatūlika talpamupai”, which was analyzed, found yet another portrayal of Krishna’s disapproval. The heroine is Satyabhama, one of Krishna’s principal wives. She is full of arrogance and ignorance; she does not think of the consequences of her statement and lacks self-control. It is only later that she realizes her behavior was improper. The Nāyika here is obsessed with her beauty; her appearance had become more important to her than the playful pastimes with her beloved. Multiple times Krishna tries to make her aware of the reality. He tries to make her see and realize the essence of true love; the love that is beyond materialistic things or outward beauty. Krishna’s endurance being put to test, he reacts impolitely. He denies the Nāyika of his love and care which ultimately makes her realize her folly. Krishna responds to the Nāyika, reflecting her unmind-fullness by his disapproval.
Finally in the Ashţapadi – “priyē cāruśīlē”, we find the most wonderful shade of Krishna. The height of a man’s love for his beloved is seen. When Krishna sees the willingness and the surrender of a Nāyika, he is ever willing to offer the entirety of himself in love. This is very evident and pronounced in his love equation with Radha. He not just loves such a Nāyika, but also openly appreciates her for her virtues. To the one who deserves his love, he is even willing to touch her feet and finds no shame or hesitation or chauvinism in doing so. In the composition, Krishna is even willing to have Radha’s feet touch his head in order to cool the fire of love in him. His humility is greatly suggested. Krishna also thirsts for love, and it is such a Nāyika who satisfies his longing. Krishna is lifeless without the existence of such a Nāyika. One completes the other in Śŗngãra, and truly, Krishna is meaningless without Radha.
These kaleidoscopic images of Krishna that were seen in all the compositions provided a very wholesome portrait of Krishna as a Śŗngāra Nāyaka. They even brought about the most wonderful definitions and ideals of the concept of Śŗngāra itself.
In conclusion, we can say that – Krishna is always a mirror to the Nāyika. However she behaves, so does he respond. To the gentle hearted gōpis, Krishna was soft and flirtatious; to the passionate Radha, he was an indulgent Krishna, to the arrogant Nāyikas, he was insolent. This is how Krishna behaves with different women. Thus we see through the medium of dance compositions that Krishna’s behavior is essentially guided by the behavior of the Nāyika.
While he can become and ideal husband or a passionate lover and present himself as an Uttama Nāyaka; he can also become an arrogant, careless and irritable hero and present himself as a Madhyama or even an Adhama Nāyaka – when, why and how he accomplishes such variety is by mirroring the various Nāyikas under different circumstances.
Why is it that through the centuries, we idealize the love of Radha and the gōpis; it is because of their pure and divine hearts, their love which is unbound by expectations that pleases and symbolizes Krishna. This too becomes evident from the analysis. It is in the heart of such Nāyikas that Krishna sings the love songs, dances and resides. Krishna divests the deepest oceans of their hearts so that they can realize the true essence of Krishna’s love.
In such situations, one must portray a Krishna who is caring, compassionate, loving, humble, expressive, empathetic and possessing more such qualities. An Uttama Nayaka in a beautiful situation of Sambhōga Śŗngāra becomes the need of the presentation. True are the words,
“The medieval rhetorical treatises in Sanskrit and Hindi have treated Krishna as an ideal hero and Radhika and gopis as ideal heroines.” (Banerjee 1978:109)
Krishna was never materialistic himself neither was he attracted by anything materialistic. Thus, a Nāyika who was away from the greed for such material possessions gained his unconditional love – like the Gōpis and Radha; while those who possessed such desires were made to realize the truth in Krishna’s subtle manner – like the Nāyikas of our Jāvaĺi and Bhāmākalāpam. In such situations, one must depict a Krishna who would convey his displeasure in many ways so that the Nāyika realizes her faults.
It was found that every composition, post analysis ended with the identification of Krishna’s character which was more or less exactly the character of the Nãyika herself! This is a testimony to the fact the Krishna is always a mirror to the Nãyika. However she behaves, so does he respond.
Krishna is a mirror, an echo that voices the Nāyika’s true self; a resonance.
The need to go into the depth of the characters of the compositions by which it will be possible to play with its components and thus evoke rasa is highlighted. It also essentially conveys that in Krishna we have the chance and liberty to treat him in any manner, and true to his name, he will absorb it all.
Krishna and Śŗngāra appear as synonyms; both exceedingly relatable to life and to art. His behavior as a Śŗngāra Nāyaka is determined by the Nāyika’s nature and the situation thereof. Yes Krishna is an ideal Nāyaka to any Nāyika and what makes him so is that he is a Nāyika’s Nāyaka – the one who always reflects the love and nature of the Nāyika! This is possible by no other Nāyaka other than Krishna, for such is his personality. It is this supreme characteristic of his that sets him apart while at the same time merges him with the other categories of Nāyakas. He stands within and outside of all classifications.
One cannot decisively say that every concept must be brought about in the actual performance of this subject; however, being aware of it and understanding the depth of the subject will help in better portrayal of Krishna as a Śŗngāra Nāyaka. Eventually the Sattva of the artiste will guide the Āngika to express the subject in a concrete way. A sympathetic spectator who picks up the suggestions will then surely experience Rasānanda.
Krishna is truly an enigma whose personality is so very profound that one can keep studying him and it truly never ends. He stirs a bouquet of emotions but remains untouched by any. There is never an end to exploring the possibilities of Krishna as a Śŗngāra Nāyaka, for he is truly eternal. The one who is equal to the Śŗngāra Nāyaka Krishna is, Krishna himself!
 Visible/present and Invisible/indirect
 One having her husband or lover in subjection; the one who is confident of her love
First and foremost I am grateful to Lord Krishna without whose divine blessings this work would not have been possible. I gratefully acknowledge the constant support of my Guide Dr Karuna Vijayendra; her expert advice and words of wisdom have been valuable. I thank Dr Choodamani Nandagopal and all the faculty members of the Department of Cultural studies, Jain University who helped me sail through the dissertation. My humble obeisance to my Gurus, B.Bhanumati, Sheela Chandrasekhar and Dr Shobha Shashikumar for being my biggest sources of inspiration. My sincere thanks to the librarians and interviewees for their assistance and inputs. My heartfelt gratitude to my parents, husband and in-laws who have always been my backbone.
(Madhulika Acharya is a Bangalore based artiste who was initiated into classical dance at the young age of eight. She is under the able guidance of Guru B Bhanumati and Guru Smt. Sheela Chandrasekhar for Bharatanatyam and is also learning the Natyasastra techniques from dancer and research scholar, Dr.Shobha Shashikumar. Madhulika pursued her post-graduation in Bharatanatyam from Jain University. She is the first rank holder and gold medalist of MA Dance degree. She has completed her MPhil in Dance from Jain University with a First Class and has taken up dance as a full-fledged career. Madhulika has rendered performances on multiple platforms for various occasions such as, temple utsavams, dance festivals and more. She also comperes for dance and music events. She has been working on academic projects as a part of her MPhil course. With a keen interest in both research and its application in performance, she wishes to understand and contribute significantly to the art field.)