Krishna, The Butter Thief

Krishna, The Butter Thief

John Stratton Hawley
Copyright Date: 1983
Pages: 438
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zv64x
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  • Book Info
    Krishna, The Butter Thief
    Book Description:

    The author traces the development of the theme of Krishna as butter thief from its earliest appearance in literature and art until the present. He focuses on the dramas (ras lilas) of Krishna's native Braj and on the Sur Sagar, a collection of verse attributed to the sixteenth-century poet Sur Das that is as familiar to Hindi speakers as Mother Goose is to us.

    Originally published in 1983.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5540-7
    Subjects: Religion, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. LIST OF TABLES
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  6. TRANSLITERATION
    (pp. xvi-xvii)
  7. LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xviii-xix)
  8. LIST OF POEMS TRANSLATED FROM THE SŪR SĀGAR
    (pp. xx-2)
  9. INTRODUCTION. The Butter and the Thief
    (pp. 3-18)

    On the whole I lived an upright boyhood, but at the age of nine I began to steal quarters from my mother. She kept them in a little purse on top of the refrigerator, so it was quite a climb to reach them. The dangers were great: in those days a quarter was a considerable sum, and discovery would mean a punishment certain and severe. But the rewards were commensurate. A new ice cream store had just been established in town and the price of a butterscotch sundae was twenty-five cents. Daily I made the happy journey from the refrigerator...

  10. PART I. BEFORE SŪR DĀS
    • CHAPTER 1 The Tradition in Literature
      (pp. 21-51)

      No one has described the childhood of Krishna more lovingly than Sūr Dās. Every nuance and naughty caper of childhood seem to have been second nature to Sūr, and for half a millennium his compositions describing Krishna’s infancy have reigned as the most popular in Braj Bhāṣā, Hindi’s most influential literary dialect. Of all these poems, the most highly prized are those that tell of how Krishna pirated butter from his mother and the other gopis. This series of vignettes has come to be known as the butter thievery game (mākhan corī līlāin Braj Bhāṣā,navanītacauryain Sanskrit), but...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Tradition in Sculpture
      (pp. 52-96)

      The literature of the butter thief as elaborated up to the time of Sūr Dās gives us only half a picture of the heritage that was his. The rest remains to be filled out by information recorded not on palm leaves and paper but in stone. Sculptural representations of Krishna’s childhood go back as far as Kuṣāṇa times and proliferate more or less steadily up until the time of the Muslim invasions, and, where that presence was not felt, onward. These sculptures, coming from all over the Indian subcontinent, not only amplify our knowledge of how the child Krishna was...

  11. PART II. THE SŪR SĀGAR
    • CHAPTER 3 Sūr’s Butter Thief Poems: Two Types
      (pp. 99-134)

      Unlike Tulsī Dās, the other major presence in Hindi’s literary firmament, Sūr Dās was almost certainly an oral poet. The various legends about his blindness, contradictory in other respects, agree in implying this, and surer historical evidence points in the same direction. The earliest collections of poems attributed to Sūr, all of which record verse belonging to theSūr Sāgaras against other works attributed to him,² contain variants that are almost impossible to explain in any other way. Although one finds instances of scribal mistakes that could only have resulted from written transmission, there is but a single case...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Butter Thief in Context
      (pp. 135-161)

      To describe Sūr’s butter thief poems in terms of the interlocking genres of vision and complaint is to depart widely from traditional practice. Critics writing in Hindi have hewed instead to one of the classical approaches of Indian poetics, and analyzed them according to the theory ofrasa(“mood”), which holds that the purpose of a work of art is to reinforce and refine one of the dominant orientations of human emotion (sthāyi bhāva) in such a way that it comes to approximate an ideal type. Rūpa Gosvāmī, the sixteenth-century theologian and Sanskrit playwright, isolated five such emotions as capable...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Legacy of Sūr’s Butter Thief
      (pp. 162-178)

      As theSūr Sāgarexpanded from collections of some 1,500 poems at the beginning of the eighteenth century to a corpus of more than 5,000 at present, Krishna’s thievery played an increasingly important role.¹ Krishna is so often called mischievous in later strata of theSūr Sāgar,so often designated a thief of hearts, that terms likeḍhīṭhandcit corbecome almost clichés. Increasingly his thievery is announced in the refrains of poems, the place where the most general references to prominent themes are made (e.g., S 1288, 2063, 2330, 2432, 2555, 2839, 2889, 3129, 4350, 4352, 4562,pari....

  12. PART III. THE RĀS LĪLĀS
    • CHAPTER 6 The Butter Thief Līlā
      (pp. 181-222)

      The poetry of the Sūr Sāgar is sung and recited on a great variety of occasions in modern-day Braj, but none is more impressive than therās līlās,and none more central to Braj culture as a whole.¹ These musical dramas depicting Krishna’s life in Braj, traditional in their current form for half a millennium, are most frequently and lavishly performed in the town of Brindavan. Frequently songs attributed to Sūr Dās are enacted in the course of the dramas; sometimes, indeed, a play derives its entire structure from lyrics strung together from theSūr Sāgar.

      The same can be...

    • CHAPTER 7 Variations on the Butter Theme
      (pp. 223-258)

      Early in my stay in Brindavan I wanted to commission a butter thieflīlāto be performed by one of the smaller, less renowned troupes of the town. When I raised the issue with one of the leaders of the company his response was, “Which butter thieflīlāis it you want to see?” The question is perfectly apt. In modern-day Brindavan one can see three separate butter thieflīlās, of which themākhan corī līlā,the one we have just heard, is only one, and even it is presented with important variations from troupe to troupe. In this chapter...

  13. PART IV. INTERPRETATION
    • CHAPTER 8 The Unbounded Economy of Love
      (pp. 261-287)

      The line between the presentation—or, as the classical term has it, the “imitation” (anukaraṇ)—of thelīlās of Krishna and their interpretation is a fine one. Considerable latitude is given to individualrāsdhārīsin selecting and arranging the songs around which a givenlīlāwill be woven, and there is still greater scope for individual inspiration in fashioning the dialogue through which these songs are given dramatic exposition. Braj people sometimes recognize the element of interpretation in the latter process by referring to the dialogue in therās līlās asvyākhyā: “interpretation,” “commentary.” Therāsdhārīis even free to...

    • CHAPTER 9 Other Boundaries: An Outsider’s View
      (pp. 288-308)

      One of the most important functions of mythology is to provide a symbolic arena in which life’s contradictions can be acknowledged and transcended, even if the terms of such contradictions remain too obdurate to be reconciled in daily living. As Lévi-Strauss has said in the course of discussing the North America trickster, “mythical thought always works from the awareness of propositions towards their progressive mediation.”¹ It seems to me that the myth of the butter thief, propounded in its several parts in thelīlās of Brindavan, serves just such a function. It gives expression to and provides relief from contradictions...

  14. APPENDIX A. TABLES OF KṚṢṆACARITA SCULPTURES TO 1500 A.D.
    (pp. 311-337)
  15. APPENDIX B. INDEX OF KṚṢṆACARITA SCULPTURES TO 1500 A. D.
    (pp. 338-375)
  16. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 376-380)
  17. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 381-404)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 405-415)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 416-416)