the forest where gambols the black buck of Shyam’s life-breath,
the divine clear lake where glides the fish of Shyam’s mind,
the beautiful lotus flower playground that attracts the Shyam honeybee,
and the brilliant moonlight that cools Shyam’s burning passionate heart,
eternally enjoys transcendental pastimes with Shyam, her peerless lover.
śyāma-prāṇa-mṛgaika-khelana-vana-śreṇī sadā śyāmalot-
khelan-mānasa-mīna-divya-sarasī śyāmāli-sat-padminī |
śyāmānanya-sunāgareṇa viharaty ekā mama svāminī ||
This verse is unusual in the Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta because it does not specifically mention Vrindavan by name. Here the word vana does appear in the first line, where Radha is metaphorically the forest in which Shyamasundar’s life airs are the deer that frolics. Though we have seen already that Vrindavan is the setting, the stage, the paradisiacal garden at the center of the mandala of spiritual attainment, it is always the Divine Couple who stand at its center. For the sakhi, for the aspirant to Vraja-rasa, they are together the object or viṣaya of love.
But that is the point of view from a certain distance. When one comes closer, one sees that sometimes Radha is the āśraya and Krishna the viṣaya, and sometimes it is the other way around. In fact, it is not really possible to penetrate the perfect love where Radha and Krishna are in competition of total absorption in each other.
The sakhis are the ones who take Radha’s side, who see primarily her glory, they see Krishna’s glory also, but mostly because it enhances hers: this Supreme Male, this all-attractive power, has been captivated by Radha’s love. To appreciate this is what it means to see Radha as the Swamini.
In other words, to be an audience, an attendant and a taster of the rasa of the Divine Sport in Vrindavan, one has to identify with Radha. And of course it is impossible to be Radha, so one identifies with her or enhances one’s identification with her through the moods of service and friendship. But though such moods exist between the sakhis and Radha, the truest part of service and friendship is identity. I love my friend because there is something I admire in her that I know I can never have or be fully. To be friends with someone means to take part in their being, in their uniqueness, and to feel that one’s own being and uniqueness are enhanced thereby.
The sakhis are lost in admiration for Radha. Rupa Goswami describes Chandravali, apparently a competitor to Radha, but he only does it because without comparison, one cannot know the superiority of any thing over another. Indeed, the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi can be read as an exercise in comparison between the personalities of Radha and Chandravali, in particular their ways of loving Krishna. All ways of loving God are good, but that of the gopis is best, and among the gopis, Radha is the essence, the full manifestation of the power of bhakti.
So Sri Rupa says,
tayor apy ubhayor madhye rādhikā sarvathādhikā |
mahā-bhāva-svarūpeyaṁ guṇair ativarīyasī ||
Of these two, Radha and Chandravali, Radha is in every way superior. She is the embodiment of the highest realms of love, and in every way the epitome of excellence in all the virtues. (UN 4.2)
To glorify Vrindavan is to glorify Radha. The sakhis are the pathway to Radha and to the epitome of excellence of madhura rasa. Through service, one is able to enter the deepest recesses of her knowledge and love for Krishna, which are infinite. One needs an eternity to touch even the hem of her skirt, or that of her closest sakhis, indeed of any of her associates, to glimpse even the glories of the grass and dust that receive the tread of their feet, but there is no delight in this world that compares to even an atomic morsel of those glories.
Though the quantity of Radha’s love is infinite and unfathomable, it is through relishing the quality of that love, its virtues, guṇa, in which she is the epitome of excellence, through meditation on the visions of the great devotee poets, the mahājanas, those who have trod the path of sakhī-bhāvaand madhura prema, where we are given gems of condensed expression of those excellences, windows by which to enter that dimension of transcendence.
cakoras te vaktrāmṛta-kiraṇa-bimbe madhukaras
tava śrī-pādābje jaghana-puline khañjana-varaḥ |
sphuran-mīno jātas tvayi rasa-sarasyāṁ madhu-pateḥ
sukhāṭavyāṁ rādhe tvayi ca hariṇas tasya nayanam ||
Oh Radhe! The Lord of Sweetness
is the chakora who drinks only the ambrosial rays
emanating from the mandala of your face.
He is the bee who enters the lotus of your feet,
the wagtail who struts on the shores of your buttocks,
the flourishing fish that swims in the lake of rasa you are,
Oh Radhe, his eyes are the deer
who wanders in the forest of bliss you are.