(Harmonist) – Balarama, The Birth of Sakhya-bhava
by Harmonist staff
By Swami Sri Bhaktivedanta Tripurari, excerpted from his forthcoming book, Circle of Friends as part of a series of articles concerning Balarāma Tattva.
The elderly mystic Paurṇamāsī, wrapped in saffron cloth1 and effulgent as the full moon after whom she is named, arrived in Vraja accompanied by the farcical brāhmaṇa boy Madhumaṅgala, who was posing as the student of Nārada.2 This student, like his elderly female companion, never ages. Is he not the original brāhmaṇa that Nārada is but an approximation of? But let us not wander too far adrift from the topic at hand.
The timing of their arrival coincided with the pregnancy of Yaśodā, an event that the entire cowherd community longed for in such measure that they became consumed by their laulyam—a longing like that experienced in the long dark night of the soul’s separation from its source. Paurṇamāsī ended this darkness with a mystic insight that she readily shared with the cowherds: the male child of Nanda and Yaśodā they longed for—an heir to the kingdom of the cowherds—was already within Yaśodā’s womb!
At this time, an auspicious childbearing lady arrived stealthily on a black mare. Like a cow of plenty, she was named after the asterism Rohiṇī, which is depicted as a reddish (aruṇa) cow that brings tidings of a plentiful harvest.3 This second mother, bearing he who would be the very best friend of Yaśodā’s own issue, met in bliss with Yaśodā. The camaraderie of the ladies would be excelled only by their sons’ fraternal feelings for one another.
Rohiṇī’s issue appeared on the full moon of the Śrāvaṇa monsoon season, eight days before the birth of Yaśomatī’s Nandana. What can be said about his appearance, when words fail even in capturing the fullness of ordinary events? Although words fail to do justice, we are not rendered silent. He himself was from far beyond meditative silence, about which one cannot say enough. Crystal-like in complexion, like the sun’s light reflected in the full moon, this boy was born to give joy to the son of Yaśodā, to reflect his light and make it approachable, just as the guru does in relation to God.
Perhaps the most astounding thing about his birth was the fact that despite his beauty and other auspicious qualities, he was for all intents and purposes unconscious of the world around him. Only when Yaśodā took him on her lap and he could feel his brother within her womb would he come to life, and only after her son, Kṛṣṇa, was born did this peculiarity subside. His name is Rāma—Balarāma—and he is Kṛṣṇa’s best friend and older brother. Although he is sakhya-rasa personified, he is viṣṇu-tattva, not śakti-tattva. The two, Rāma and Kṛṣṇa, are respectively sevaka- and sevya-bhagavān.
Balarāma’s beauty knows no bounds. His feet are soft like lotuses, the hands of his long, strong arms reach his knees, his broad chest is garlanded with a guñjā-mālā, and his dark hair is tied in a topknot circled with a bounty of forest flowers. His complexion is clear and white like reflective moonlight.
He is Bhagavān of a friendly frame of mind: he sometimes serves, while at other times he is concerned with how his younger brother behaves. Sages call him Baladeva. Mighty, witty, wise, and well dressed in midnight blue, he wears a tilaka made of musk, dark in hue. His single earring kisses his cheek, and a lotus circled by bees decorates his ear. O Balarāma of voice deep in tone, when will I hear your call to serve—the sound of your buffalo horn?
1 In Gopāla-campū, Jīva Goswāmī dresses Paurṇamāsī in saffron despite the fact that she is named after the full moon and the fact that Rūpa Goswāmī drapes her in white in Rādhā-kṛṣṇa-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā.
2 Gopāla-campū 2.36.42 states, “Madhumaṅgala is Nārada’s counter image with a joking nature.” In Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.14.229, we also find Śrīvāsa in the mood of Nārada, acting like Madhumaṅgala. Just as svayam bhagavān manifests expansions of himself for līlās outside of Vraja, so too do his associates, such as Madhumaṅgala in the form of Nārada. In līlā and bhāva, Madhumaṅgala is the disciple of Nārada, while from the tattva perspective he is the source of Nārada.
3 Aruṇa—reddish brown/rust—is the color of sakhya-rati. The black mare mentioned in the previous sentence conceals Rohiṇī’s nighttime escape from Mathurā to Vraja.