Role of "Swaminijis" in Bhakti sects


Over the years, what I could not reconcile was the fact that none of the original scriptures tend to match with the popular versions of Indian mythologies.  Over the centuries, “kathakars” (preachers / orators) have created a "working-script" of their own which is very different to the original - its a bit like the film screen play being different to the original book !! 


Shri Vallabh accepts the Vedas, Vedanta, BrahmaSutra, Shrimaad Bhagvatam and SMB Gita as the pramans, touch-stone or authentic scriptures.  Here is a curious fact – the shastras Shri Vallabh accepts as authentic – do no mention Radhaji or any gopi by name.  Many lilas we associate with Krushna are not in the praman shastras.  Holi, Daana, Maan, Sanji, Nav-Vilas are not in the SM Bhagvatam or Mahabharat which contains SMB Gita.  None of the ancient sages or acharyas mention Radhaji or any gopi by name. 


Nibakacharya (date) is the first authority to mention Radhaji and associate her exclusively with Shri Krushna.  Jayadeva of Orissa (date) is the first poet of rank to write extensively about Radha-Krushna and a whole host of gopies.  His romantic poetry has fired the imagination of generations of artists ever since, creating painting, sculpture, poetry and plays based on the Gita-Govindam he wrote.  Jayadeva was the court poet of the king of Puri, centre of JagganNath cult on the Eastern shore.  Till date, the Gita Govindam is an essential component of worship that is carried out at Puri.


In the 15th – 16th Century, Shri Chaitanya and Shri Vallabh spread their philosophies across the East, West and Northern India.  Shri Chaitanya, being thoroughly imbibed in the cult of JagganNathji of Puri, was an enthusiastic exponent of the cult of Radha and gopies.  Indeed, many believed him to be an incarnation of an aspect of Radha.  The Gaudia sampraday he founded wrote volumes on Swaminijis – the great ladies who were part of the new Krushna lilas they popularised.


Shri Vallabh on the other hand, did not mention or propagate the idea of Radha or Swaminijis as he relied solely on the authentic scriptures, written centuries before Nimbakacharya.  Though well aware of Vaishnav purans such as Brahmavaivarta, and the cult of swaminijis, he does not mention them in his various treaties, commentaries or books.  Shri Vallabh accepts Shri Yamunaji as the adi-guru of the Pushti Marg.  Shri Yamunaji is the only swaminiji he accepts alongside Shri Nathji.


After Shri Vallabh and Shri GopiNathji, Shri Gusaiji came to lead the sect.  Emperor Akbar had gifted the village of Gokul to Shri Gusaiji and hence he settled there with his family.  While the guruji’s family was at Adel near Prayag, they used to come to Vraj on special visit.  Once the guru family started to stay at Gokul, his family became thoroughly immersed in the culture of Vraj, they too started to accept the idea of Swaminijis.  Evidence of this is from 252 vartas itself. 

Shri Gusaiji removed the gaudia servants from Shri Nathji's temple because "they were worshiping a goddess alongside Shri Nathji".  Apparently they used to place her next to Shri Nathji when doing the seva and take the svaroop away by placing / hiding it in their hair !!!!  The only goddess gaudia sampraday would worship is Shri Radha.  Its a very well established fact that in the Gaudia sampraday, Shri Radha is key and without her, they would consider all seva to be incomplete.  Shri Vallabh's philosophy was opposed to this.  In his philosophy, there is only GOD.  He is everything.  He is the universe, its creator and its creation.  Just as gold is gold, no matter what you modify it into, GOD is GOD, no matter what you modify "it" into.  In Shri Vallabh's writing, there is no swaminiji who shares the throne or power of the Lord.  He is the only one.  Hence, Shri GopiNathji and Shri Gusaiji do not accept the swaminiji in to their seva.

Later however, the influence of Vraj made some of the balaks hanker for swaminijis for their own Nidhi svaroops.  Balkrishnaji was given Shri Dwarikadhishji and he wanted to worship a swaminiji in conjunction with the nidhi svaroop, Shri Gusaiji gave him permission provided he did this worship secretly in private.  From that point onwards, other balaks also followed suite and though they never worship the swaminiji in public, they make provision for her in everything from bed, clothes, jewels etc. 


Some svaroops already had swaminijis - such as Vitthalnathji, MadanMohanji and GokulNathji.  These came to Shri Vallabh / Gusaiji with their swaminiji.  By this time, these svaroops had well established iconography whereby swamininjis were already part of the lore.  This was extended to the other svaroops and their swaminijis became secrete partners in their seva.


Elaborate lore has been developed to include swaminijis in Pushti philosophies.  Entire new vaishnav scriptures were written, adding new nikunj lilas.  When 84 and 252 Vartas of great vaishnav initiates were finally written, they were associated with this new lore of gopies and nikunj lila of Golokdham etc. 

When the sect moved out of Vraj, it moved mainly into Rajasthan, the nearest block of Hindu kingdoms next to the Mughal empire.  Thakorjis and their swaminijis adopted to their new homes, absorbing the life styles of their royal hosts.  As a result, in art and literature of the time, they followed the strict rules of purdah, dressed in colourful tie-dye clothes of the region and wore elaborate jewellery.  Eg - Even now, whenever Shri VitthalNathji travels outside his haveli in a palanquin with his Swaminiji, it is covered in thick layers of veils.  Pichoi, khilonas (toys), miniature gopies etc made for the seva also had the clothes and jewels worn by Rajasthani women of the times.


At one time, the most popular style for depicting gopis and swaminijis was that of Kota and Bundi.  There is an extensive and excellent example of this style at the haveli of Shri Dwarikadhishji at Kakaroli.  On the walls above the main courtyard where vaishnavs do the darshan, are covered on all 4 sides by paintings of swaminijis in a grove with Yashodaji, holding the baby Krushna on side, reflected in a mirror on the other side !  During the end of 19th and early 20th Century, styles changed and more modern approach to "realistic" paintings took over.  This is reflected in the Pushti Marg related paintings from our great-grandparents generation.  Lately, post-independence, the popular painting style is that of Jaipur and Udaipur, harking back to a more luxuriant style of painting women draped in fine see-through saris of various colours and designs, wearing strings of pearls punctuated by rubies and emeralds.  Ofcourse, gopies in Krishna's time never dressed like this, but this is our "popular", romantic perception of they would have looked like.  Artists have kept pace with popular perceptions and this lends to the rich heritage of our art. 



This than is the historical development of how and why swaminijis are worshiped in our sect. 
Sorry if it challenges "cherished sentiments" of any readers, but in light of 2010 verdict of the SC of India, highlighting Krushna - Radha relationship as a prescedence for pre-marital relationship, I felt it was important for our community to know fact from fiction.



Bhagwat Shah ©


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