Intimate Worlds: The Wedding of Satyabhama
BY: JAHNAVA DEVI
The Wedding of Satyabhama and Krishna from Bhagavata Purana
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Aug 26, CANADA (SUN) Krsna consciousness in art criticism.
In our continuing series of commentary on the Alvin Bellak collection of Indian masterpiece paintings, today we consider "The Wedding of Satyabhama and Krishna". This page from a dispersed series of the Bhagavata Purana was painted in Rajasthan, probably in Bikaner, c. 1590-1600. The piece is done in opaque watercolor and gold on paper.
The authors of Intimate Worlds, the book showcasing the exquisite Bellak collection, have relied in part upon Bhagavata Purana for their understanding of this pastime of Lord Krsna in Dvaraka:
"Jewels, miraculously petrified bits of light, have long bedazzled humans, often to the point of provoking imprudent, even irrational behavior. Chapter 56 of Book 10 of the Bhagavata Purana recounts a sequence of events precipitated by the blinding effect of a particularly magnificent gem, the syamantaka jewel given by the sun god to his friend Satrajita. So pleased is Satrajita with the lustrous object and the auspicious occurrences that accompany it that he refuses to part with the jewel even when Krishna himself requests it."
Satrajita's greedy attachment to the bauble has ruinous consequences. When his brother, Prasena, borrows the jewel one day to wear while hunting, it quickly attracts the attention of a lion, who kills him for it; the lion in turn is slain in his lair by the equally covetous king of the bears, Jambavan. Alarmed by his brother's disappearance, Satrajita begins to spread rumors that Krishna must be involved in foul play. Krishna follows Prasena's trail to Jambavan's cave, where Krishna and Jambavan battle over the jewel for twenty-eight days. The bear finally concedes defeat, acknowledges the divine nature of his opponent, and offers Krishna his daughter in marriage. The long duration of their struggle causes great concern among the populace, who worry about Krishna's safety and lament their own deprivation of his benevolent presence. They rejoice when Krishna emerges with the jewel about his neck and a bride at his side, but they also rebuke Satrajita for having caused so much sorrow. Satrajita realizes that his terrible greed has led him to malign so perfect a being as Krishna, and is duly contrite.
Having once rashly denied Krishna the syamantaka jewel, he decides to make amends by offering him a still more precious one: his daughter Satyabhama, so esteemed for her beauty and virtuous demeanor that she is regarded as a jewel among women. Krishna graciously accepts the offer of Satyabhama's hand in marriage, but insists that Satrajita keep the syamantaka jewel. Satrajita's joy is short-lived, for Satyabhama's jilted fiancé, jealous at the loss of his potential bride and Satrajita's repossession of the jewel, murders him in his sleep."
In Chapters 56 and 57 of Krsna Book written by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, we find a much more detailed explanation of the pastime. The Bellak art critic takes note of the duration of Krsna's struggle with Jambavan, and the fact that the local citizens were very concerned for Krsna's safety and greatly missed his association. In Krsna Book, however, we learn that they did not simply sit idly by, waiting for the twenty-eight day battle to be over. After the twelfth day, they concluded that something undesirable must have happened to Krsna, and they very sadly returned home to Dvaraka.
"All the members of the family, namely the mother of Krsna, Devaki, His father, Vasudeva, and His chief wife, Rukmini, along with all other friends, relatives and residents of the palace, became very sorry when the citizens returned home without Krsna. Because of their natural affection for Krsna, they began to call Satrajit ill names, for he was the cause of Krsna's disappearance. They went to worship the goddess Candrabhaga, praying for the return of Krsna. The goddess was satisfied by the prayers of the citizens of Dvaraka, and she immediately offered them her benediction. Simultaneously, Krsna appeared on the scene accompanied by His new wife Jambavati, and all the inhabitants of Dvaraka and relatives of Krsna became joyful." (KB 56)
Krsna and Jambavati were honored with great celebrations by the people of Dvaraka, who joyfully received Krsna and His new wife. The Bellak critic describes how the crowd rejoiced when Krsna re-appeared from the cave with Syamantaka and Jambavati, saying that they also chastised Satrajita for having caused so much difficulty, and this is confirmed in the passage from Krsna Book above. Krsna Book goes on to describe a meeting that was called of the kings and chiefs, where Krsna explained what had taken place.
"Krsna wanted to return the valuable jewel to King Satrajit. Satrajit, however, became ashamed because he had unnecessarily defamed Krsna. He accepted the jewel in his hand, but he remained silent, bending his head downwards, and without speaking anything in the assembly of the kings and chiefs, he returned home with the jewel." (KB 56)
Sri Krsna displayed His typical kindness and magnanimity in not publicly chastising Satrajit, just as He had not been critical of his initial desire to possess the jewel.
The author of Intimate Worlds states that Satrajit, after having rashly denied Krsna the Syamantaka jewel, finally decided to make amends by offering him the beautiful Satyabhama. In Krsna Book, however, we get a more exacting description of that aspect of the pastime:
"King Satrajit was eager to get relief from the anxiety he had foolishly created due to being attracted by a material thing, specifically the Syamantaka jewel. Satrajit was truly afflicted by the offense he had committed toward Krsna, and he sincerely wanted to rectify it. From within, Krsna gave him good intelligence, and Satrajit decided to hand over to Krsna both the jewel and his beautiful daughter, Satyabhama." (KB 56)
From this statement we can understand that by the mercy of Caitya Guru "from within", Satrajit got the good intelligence to offer up his daughter Satyabhama in marriage. In other words, it was not simply a strategic decision on Satrajit's part, made in an effort to appease Krsna, but rather he was divinely inspired to offer his daughter's hand.
It is interesting to note that in the opening narrative of the Bellak critic, the author cites Chapter 56 of Book 10 of the Bhagavata Purana. This is almost certainly a reference to Chapter 56 of Krsna Book by Srila Prabhupada, which is a summary study of the 10th Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam.
At the conclusion of this chapter, we read about the arrangements made by Satrajit for the wedding of Krsna and Satyabhama.
"He gave in charity both the jewel and his daughter to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Satyabhama was so beautiful and qualified that Satrajit, in spite of being asked for the hand of Satyabhama by many princes, was waiting to find a suitable son-in-law. By the grace of Krsna he decided to hand his daughter over to Him.
Lord Krsna, being pleased upon Satrajit, informed him that He did not have any need of the Syamantaka jewel. "It is better to let it remain in the temple as you have kept it," He said, "and every one of us will derive benefit from the jewel. Because of the jewel's presence in the city of Dvaraka, there will be no more famines or disturbances created by pestilence or excessive heat and cold."
The Bellak critic describes the closing scenes of the pastime, saying that unfortunately Satrajita's joy was short-lived because the jilted fiancé of his daughter, who wanted both Satyabhama and Syamantaka, murdered Satrajita in his sleep out of revenge. In Chapter 57 of Krsna Book, we read that Satyabhama did not actually have a fiancé prior to her marriage to Krsna. Rather, her father had promised to give her in charity to a variety of different matrimonial candidates. All these would-be husbands were jilted when she was given over in marriage to Krsna instead. Satyabhama herself explains this in a conversation with Draupadi, from Chapter 83 of Krsna Book:
"My dear Draupadi, my father was very much afflicted on the death of his brother, Prasena, and he falsely accused Lord Krsna of killing his brother and stealing the Syamantaka jewel, which had actually been taken by Jambavan. Lord Krsna, in order to establish His pure character, fought with Jambavan and rescued the Syamantaka jewel, which was later delivered to my father. My father was very much ashamed and sorry for accusing Lord Krsna of his brother's death. After getting back the Syamantaka jewel, he thought it wise to rectify his mistake, so although he had promised others my hand in marriage, he submitted the jewel and myself at the lotus feet of Krsna, and thus I was accepted as His maidservant and wife."
This aspect of the pastime comes to a close as we read about the killing of Satrajit. Krsna and Balarama had just left Dvaraka for Hastinapura, going there to offer their sympathies to the family of the Pandavas, who were believed to have been killed in the fire at the shellac house. In their absence, there was a conspiracy to steal back the Syamantaka jewel.
"When Krsna and Balarama were away from the city of Dvaraka, there was a conspiracy to take away the Syamantaka jewel from Satrajit. The chief conspirator was Satadhanva. Along with others, Satadhanva wanted to marry Satyabhama, the beautiful daughter of Satrajit. Satrajit had promised that he would give his beautiful daughter in charity to various candidates, but later the decision was changed, and Satyabhama was given to Krsna along with the Syamantaka jewel. Satrajit had no desire to give the jewel away along with his daughter, and Krsna, knowing his mentality, accepted his daughter but returned the jewel. After getting back the jewel from Krsna, he was satisfied and kept it with him always. But in the absence of Krsna and Balarama there was a conspiracy by many men, including even Akrura and Krtavarma, who were devotees of Lord Krsna, to take the jewel from Satrajit. Akrura and Krtavarma joined the conspiracy because they wanted the jewel for Krsna. They knew that Krsna wanted the jewel and that Satrajit had not delivered it properly. Others joined the conspiracy because they were disappointed in not having the hand of Satyabhama. Some of them incited Satadhanva to kill Satrajit and take away the jewel." (KB 57)
So while Krsna had left the jewel in the possession of Satrajit in order that it might protect the citizens of Dvaraka, the Lord's devotees took a different course of action in their desire to return the jewel to Krsna, knowing that in truth it belonged to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. By His mercy alone the residents of Dvaraka and all the devotees are protected.
The Wedding of Sri Krsna and Satyabhama
The actual scene depicted in the painting is described thus by the author of Intimate Worlds:
"This painting depicts the wedding of Satyabhama and Krishna as a humble affair, with little of the turmoil of the preceding events. Wearing special headdresses adorned by a modest floral spray, the seated newlyweds look on as the Brahmin priest propitiates the gods by pouring clarified butter into the sacrificial fire. A wedding canopy, festooned with auspicious leaves and supported precariously by five poles, joins the three figures together in the center of the painting. The remainder of the composition is filled sparsely by another Brahmin seated among ritual vessels, and two attendants bringing platters of flowers and fruit."
The author is surely correct in noting the simple adornments of this wedding fire sacrifice. Compared to the turmoil associated with the Syamantaka jewel pastimes, the marriage scene is indeed serene. But before we consider the physical elements of the scene, like the wedding canopy or the dress and ornaments of those present, we should first consider who these personalities are in the broader context.
In the biography of Srila Lochan dasa Thakura in "Lives of the Vaisnava Saints" by Satyaraja dasa (Steven Rosen) we read:
"As previously mentioned by Krishna in his conversation with Rukmini, the Lord, along with Satyabhama, Rukmini, and all his eternal associates from the spiritual world came with the luster and mood of Radharani in a golden form as Shri Gauranga. He came to spread the sankirtan of the holy name of Krishna."
As described by Srila Rupa Gosvami in Chapter 13 of his Sri Ujjvala-Nilamani:
"Recognizing that Jambavati is actually Lalita, Satyabhama is Radharani, and the Syamantaka jewel is the crest jewel of Sankhacuda, Krsna speaks to Madhumangala: Now I can understand that this girl Jambavati under the tree is actually Lalita, that this beautiful Satyabhama is Radharani, and this Syamantaka jewel is the crest-jewel of Sankhacuda. These facts have made Me become agitated with extreme wonder."
And in Srila Jiva Goswami's Sri Krsna-sandarbha, Anuccheda 184, we read:
"In this way we may understand that all the queens of Lord Krsna are the internal potencies of the Lord. In the Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda, Srimati Satyabhama-devi is described as the Lord’s bhu-sakti and in the Hari-vamsa, she is described as both Bhu-sakti and Prema-sakti."
We also know that the personality Jagadananda Pandita, who was one of Lord Caitanya's parishad associates, was himself the incarnation of Satyabhama. In the Introduction to Prema-vivarta we read:
"Their dealings were enacted on the transcendental plane of pure divine consciousness. The main actor in these pastimes is Lord Krsna or Lord Gauranga Himself. Lord Krsna in the Dvaraka pastimes exhibited a similar relationship with His favoured queen Satyabhama. And now the same supreme Lover Krsna, appearing as Lord Caitanya, the most munificent incarnation of Godhead, performs in ditto His extraordinary pastime of Dvaraka presently with Jagadananda Pandita in Navadvipa.
In the Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika Jagadananda Pandita is described as Satyabhama, one of the principal queens of Krsna in Dvaraka -- "Satyabhama prakaso pi Jagadananda Pandita'. He participated in many of Lord Caitanya's pastimes. He was present when Lord Caitanya subdued Chandkazi; delivered Jagai and Madhai; when Lord's sannyasa staff was broken; accompanied the Lord to Puri after His sannyasa along with Nityananda Prabhu, Damodara Pandita, and Mukanda Datta; sang and danced in innumerable sankirtana gatherings; once in ire he broke the pot of sandalwood oil with a stick. In all of these pastimes Jagadananda Pandita exhibited a volatile nature which even Lord Caitanya always carefully handled. As Satyabhama possessed a 'leftist' mood and nature so did Jagadananda Pandita.
Among the queens of Krsna in Dvaraka, Rukmini and others were restraint, awe, demureness [ ] always ready to surrender to the will of the lover, while the 'leftist' mood is recalcitrant, argumentative, intransigent and always trying to impose her will on the Lover. The 'leftist' mood was fully embodied in Jagadananda Pandita. These pastimes have been vividly described in the Sri Caitanya Caritamrta and Sri Caitanya Bhagavat."
So we can see that while the painting in question features a simple, unadorned setting for the marriage of Krsna and Satyabhama, in fact the Lord's new bride is a transcendental personality beyond all measure.
In Chapter 1 of Sri Ujjvala-Nilamani by Srila Rupa Gosvami we read:
"After Krsna had already married Rukmini, the princess of Vidarbha, He performed the pastimes of marrying Satyabhama. He was initiated in the marriage sacrifice, and, very slowly, and with elaborate religious ritual, gave great wealth as daksina to the priest Narada."
We know that in Mathura, Krsna and Balarama were both initiated by Gargamuni in the Gayatri and later took instruction from Sandipani Muni. What kind of initiation it was that Krsna accepted during the marriage ceremony with Satyabhama, I personally do not know. Narada, of course, carried out many amazing pastimes in association with Krsna, Satyabhama and Rukmini in Dvaraka, and perhaps the above-mentioned distribution of daksina to Narada prefaced his services in that regard.
The Wedding Scene
As described by the author of Intimate Worlds, the setting for Krsna and Satyabhama's wedding ceremony is a festooned canopy "supported precariously by five poles". While nothing further is said on this point, one is left to wonder why the artist chose the asymmetry of five canopy poles. At first glance one might conclude that the three poles on the left simply balance out the prominent position of Krsna and Satyabhama on the right. But in fact, these five poles may not have been a whimsical choice on the artist's part. Interestingly enough, we also see that there are five large lotas (water pots) in the painting, along with five puja vessels sitting on the ground. This would seem to indicate something of significance associated with the number five, but it's impossible to know just what the painter had in mind.
From Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi Lila 10.106, we know that the brahmin offering ghee into the fire in the wedding scene is most likely Kulaka, who was deputed by Satrajit to arrange the marriage of Krsna and Satyabhama. In verse 50 of the Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika, we learn that the brahmana Kulaka later manifested as the personality Kasinatha during Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu's lila. Having incarnated as Kasinatha, this same brahmin went on to arrange the marriage of Lord Caitanya, when His name was Visvambhara.
It is also not known who the two attendants are in the painting, although it is certainly possible that they are Jambavati and Rukmini, the other two prominent wives of Sri Krsna in this particular pastime. The attendant on the right is offering a bowl filled with flower garlands, and she approaches impassively. The attendant on the left, however, appears to be proffering an empty bowl, and her mouth is turned decidedly downwards, giving her a rather unhappy appearance. This could understandably denote Jambavati, who had but a very brief span of time as Krsna's wife before Satyabhama came onto the scene.
There is a pronounced absence of ornamentation in the dress of the wedding party. Krsna sports a simple, conical headdress typical of Dvaraka wedding attire, with two gold-centered medallions over each ear. He wears a plain golden kurta tied with a sash, a red dhoti or pajama, and no jewelry except for a few strands of necklace. Likewise, Satyabhama is swathed in a flowing white striped dupatta, with only a bracelet as ornamentation. Both sport very sweet sprays of white flowers that sway charmingly above their heads on long, thin stems.
It is conceivable that the artist chose to display the divine couple in such an unadorned fashion for one of a few reasons. For example, he may have wished to emphasize a particular contrast between this unadorned scene and the glittering opulence of the Syamantaka jewel, which was the catalyst for the pastime that resulted in this marriage. Or, the absence of opulence might indicate the fact that Satyabhama is joining a stellar line of already established wives beginning with Rukmini, who is wife number one here in Dvaraka. In fact, both of the attendants are dressed and ornamented more opulently than the bride herself, indicating that they may be two of Krsna's wives.
The canopy itself is simply ornamented with a toran of small oranges and banana leaves. The Bellak writer notes that "The rectangular block of red featured consistently in many contemporary series is disguised here as the pavilion interior." She also suggests that Krsna is wearing Mughal-style garments, and that the other brahmins and attendants have the "squarish heads and schematic faces" typical of this Bikaner school of painting.
All in all, this is a beautiful rendition of a pastime from Krsna's Dvaraka-lila that we seldom see set down on canvas.