Miracle Plays of Mathura: The Uddhav Lila


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May 14, CANADA (SUN) — The Uddhav Lila of Swami Kunvar Pal - Part One.

Our extended series of articles on the Miracle Plays of Mathura, based on a book of that title by author Norvin Hein, will conclude this week with a five-day presentation of the Uddhav Lila of Sri Krsna.

In the common thirty-day stand of a rasmandali, the performance of the Uddhav Lila takes place, traditionally, on the next to the last day. The twenty-eighth day is the occasion for the Kansbadh Lila, in which the defeat of the wicked Kans is celebrated in a hilarious rough-and-tumble.

The thirtieth day is reserved for the Dan Lila, for then the swami wishes to bring up the matter of offerings with those who have seen all his lila performances.

The Uddhav Lila, on the twenty-ninth day, brings to a climax the religious message of the entire series. The situation it presents is second only to the performance of the ras itself in intensity of the religious feeling it can inspire.

Because it is a subtle and serious play, the Uddhav Lila is not understood and appreciated by everybody. The roustabouts of the streets who on the night of the clownish Kansbadh Lila filled the theater with their laughter and commotion are absent on the next evening because the Uddhav Lila is too sober for their taste. Others are fond of it for different reasons.

The merely sentimental make it an opportunity for delicious heartbreak over the homesickness of Krsna and the lovesickness of the lonely gopis. The thoughtlessly devout spend the evening doting once more upon the clever pranks of the Darling of Vrindaban. For aesthetes it is a feast of music and poetry, which are exceptionally prominent in this play because of its high emotion. But to the rasik jan, the perceptive devotees, the Uddhav Lila is the very queen of the lilas because it expresses anew their most vital convictions and longings. Their passionate preference for the worship of a personal God is vindicated in the play by Krsna himself, who slyly defeats and converts the advaitin Uddhav and brings him into the true path - the bhakti path - for the attainment of Himself.

They delight to see the haughty philosophical pretensions of Uddhav brought low by the simple cowherd girls, whose religion is naught but the love of the Handsome Syam. The onlookers identify themselves with the gopis of the play not only in their certainties, but in their despairs as well. The sorrows of the gopis bring tears to their eyes because they express a tension in their own lives - the tension between attainment and insecurity, between occasional moments of assurance and the persisting thirst in which complete satisfaction is denied.

Both the spectators and the gopis long for a Deity who has been their intimate friend, but who has gone away to Mathura. Mystically, he is still seated in their hearts, but their relation with Him is fitful. At one moment the gopis saucily declare to Uddhav that they are already joined with Syamsundar and have no need of His philosophical nostrums; but at the next instant they are weeping again because of the pain of separation. And thus, even in the final scene, when the whole assembly of devotees rises with the converted Uddhav and stands in the very visual presence of Krsna, they pray still, 'O Lord, I am in they shelter. Give me, along with all Braj residents, vision of Thyself.'

The following text of an Uddhav Lila performance, which will be presented over a five-day span to conclude this Sun series, was recorded by author Hein in 1949, in a private session by Swami Kunvar Pal of Chata with the help of his staff of musicians. An earlier effort to record the Uddhav Lila under normal stage conditions had not produced a transcribable record, but it had raised such a storm of protest in Vrindaban that no rasdhari would agree to make another recording in public. Therefore Swami Kunvar Pal came quietly to a secluded place with the adult members of his troupe only, and for two hours and a half he poured into the microphone the dialogue and songs of his Uddhav Lila.

Some connoisseurs of Braj literature have read this specimen of the raslila stage with regret. It is only fair to say that it is not the most polished play which Braj could have given as an example of her art. Its materials are more loosely strung than most; its narrative is less carefully told. Our swami mixes his dialects, is inconsistent in case formation, and incorporates into the play verses which pain the ears of those of the highest literary taste. We have not smoothed out any of these imperfections by tampering with the text. We give you an average Uddhav Lila, the work of an average rasdhari who was so kind as to allow himself to be recorded.

Among the literary sources used by the swami, one can recognize the works of seven poets: Nanddas, Surdas, Tosh, Thakur, Sankar, Candi and Kumarju (the swami himself). These authors are usually identified by their chaps, or signatory designations inserted directly into the texts of their poems. Much use is made of Nanddas' Bhanvargit. But a great many of the verses used in the play have not been identified.

Many epithets of Krsna are used in the text. They will be reproduced without translation, unless their literal sense has some special relevance to the dramatic situation. Some of the epithets are:

    Ghansyam - the Cloud-dark One
    Banmali or Bnavari - Wearer of the Banmala
    Bipin Bihari - Sporter in the Forest
    Braj Dulare - Darling of Braj
    Braj Bihari - Sporter in Braj
    Nandanandan - Delighting to Nanda (i.e., Son of Nanda)
    Nandalal - Son of Nanda
    Mohan - The Infatuating One
    Yadunath - Lord of the Yadus
    Ramanath - Husband of Rama
    Syam - The Dark One (Radha is addressed by the feminine derivative, Syama)

The Uddhav Lila

Scene: a forested place in Braj. The gopis, some sitting, some lying, are faint from separation.


The Lord Syamsundar has gone off to Mathura and has not returned.


Without him, the condition of Braj is very bad.

Krishna Candra has given up coming to Gokul from Mathura.
Since then, dear, the women residing in Braj
Have ceased to go to the waterside.
The vines and the leaves have dried up,
Jamuna has deserted her banks.
He eats confections of dried fruit,
Has given up the eating of butter.

Without him, Jamuna has deserted her banks, and whatever vines and leaves there are, they too have all dried up, and the cows have stopped their grazing. Having killed Kans, he has become a king now. He has made love to Kubja, and has given up singing the praises of our dear princess, the Daughter of Vrishabhanu.


Day and night our eyes rain tears.
The rainy season stays with us constantly
Since Syam went away.
Day and night our eyes rain tears.

O friend, ever since our Dear One went, our eyes have been raining tears as does the monsoon.

The cloth of our bodice never dries,
Channels flow amid the breast.
Day and night our eyes rain tears.
Collyrium does not stay in our eyes -
Hands and cheeks have become black.
Day and night our eyes rain tears.


Because of the streams of tears, our clothing stays wet day and night.

Who will go? Whom may I ask? Friend, who will
listen to our woes?
Day and night our eyes rain tears.
Surdas says Krishna has gone to another place.
Great is the sorrow of the bereft.
Day and night our eyes rain tears.

To whom may we speak of this sorrow? And before whom may we weeP? Abandoning us, dear Syamsundar went away and gave us extreme grief.


O Master, remember us masterless ones!
O Master, remember us masterless ones!
The gopis and cowherds are sorrowful without sight of Thee.
Humble and wretched, they waste away every moment.
The sight of thy lotus feet is a new boat;
O Ocean of Mercy, gain the world's renown!

O Master, without you this Braj is very miserable.
The current of love is greatly swollen with tears.
Braj is drowning. Why not grasp its hand?

Through love for you, this Braj keeps swelling like the ocean. Give it a vision of your lotus feet - seat us in the boat of a vision of your lotus feet - and carry us across!

The vision of thy lotus feet is a new boat.
O Ocean of Mercy, obtain the world's renown!
O Master, remember us masterless ones!
O Master, remember us masterless ones!
Sur says, O Syam, the oath of Nand is on thee!
Please come once to Braj!
O Master, remember us masterless ones!
O Syamsundar, give us vision of yourself!

End of Scene 1


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