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Shrimad Bhagavata Purana - the Rasa Lila

Kamadev in battle
It is easy to forget that the famous story of the Rasa Lila is as much about Kamadev as it is about Krishna and Radha.

It is the story of Kamadev's greatest battle. Kamadev, who was an avatar of Vishnu (quite as much as Krishna), had been invincible, and had even sought to attack Brahma.  Upon his victory against Brahma, Kamadev recognized he was developing pride. Kamadev began to think that he was entirely invincible, or matchless. Understanding his danger from pride, he complained aloud that no one could defeat him, and he would be defeated by pride. Upon hearing his own complaint, the thought occurred to Kamadev that he should visit Krishna on the full moon in the autumn: Krishna was a worthy adversary!  Increasingly, he was convinced he should test himself against Krishna: if, there, in the company of all the cowgirls he felt any love, he would know that he could be himself conquered. If not by the cowgirls, than by Krishna, himself - but if he still felt nothing, or caused Krishna to be overcome, then he would know that he must submit to pride - for doubtlessly then, he must be invincible. Even when pitted against himself. Kamadev was decided: he would battle Krishna and finally know if he was invincible, or matchless.

This is not the first time that Vishnu helped himself. Rama-With-The-Axe helps nearly every other avatar of Vishnu, and frequently, Vishnu's several avatars help each other.

Krishna, becoming aware of Kamadev's intentions, prepared for battle. Krishna armed himself with Maya, but was inexperienced in the Yoga of Maya: yet he could think of no other way to either defend himself, or overcome Kamadev. His strategy was to conquer Kamadev by making sufficient illusion to cause Kamadev to love him, Krishna: while Kamadev was anticipating Krishna to make him fall in love with the cowgirls, Kamadev would never anticipate that Krishna would become the subject of Kamadev's love! So Krishna, to the limit of his ability in the Yoga of Maya made it seem a perfect night for love: flowers bloomed, the full moon shown, a gentle, cool breeze blew from the banks of the river Yamuna. He then played an enchanting tune on his flute, and beautified himself. He danced there, in the moonlight among the flowers, in the evening breeze. He became quite beautiful, indeed!

Krishna's maya could not be ignored, and soon, all the cowgirls, all the women nearby, were attracted to Krishna, and came running the spot - the cowgirls and women, it must be remembered, are not merely cowgirls, but are embodiments of elements of the Dharma, are in fact elemental components of Vishnu. They are not avatars or manifestations of Vishnu, they are like limbs, or part of Vishnu, having taken the form of people to be near to Vishnu in his manifestation as Krishna.

The women crowded Krishna, and as if in a trance began to dance with him. Krishna's maya made them so beautiful!  Krishna was concerned for their safety, this was no place for them: it was to be a battlefield between Krishna and Kamadev and already the cowgirls were being afflicted by maya! He encouraged them to go home to their families, to their husbands and children and cattle. "Do not be so easily enchanted, leave mundane lusts behind!" But the cowgirls refused to go, indeed they could not, for they were entranced, and trapped by Krishna's Maya. Every fiber of their being desired Krishna, and Krishna's victory. As Krishna worried for them, he began to care for them, and lost concentration on the Maya. And then he fell subject to his own Maya.  He became entranced as well, and soon Krishna began to enjoy their company. This reciprocated love caused the cowgirls to develop selfish feelings, even individuality.  This tore at the integrity of Vishnu, as he tore himself apart into numerous individuals.  This tore apart the very existence of every world! As Vishnu began to shatter, and separate into individualities, Krishna teetered on the edge of destruction and defeat. And then he vanished!

To the cowgirls, who remained, and were still suffering from individuality, it seemed that Krishna was gone. They were distressed beyond words - not only at the defeat, but at the loss of Krishna to them (they were also still enchanted by the Maya), and their role in his defeat, when they so desired his victory. They refused to believe that Krishna was actually gone, for if he had been destroyed, they would have also. They were Vishnu as well!  So they looked all over for Krishna, asking the plants and animals where he was hiding. Then they followed his footprints, and saw Radha's footprints beside him. The thought came to them that Krishna had carried Radha to some hidden place, for the purposes of enjoying her company better. It must be remembered here that Radha is none other than the avatar of Laxmi, Vishnu's wife.

Though Krishna and Kamadev thought they were battling each other only, in fact Radha had joined the fight to defend Krishna. Radha had noticed things going very wrong and suspected Kamadev, invisible somewhere, had also been using Maya, taking advantage of Krishna's relative inexperience in the Yoga of Maya. Radha acted immediately and saved Krishna from destruction.

Laxmi was a master of Maya, because she was Maya.  So she chose as her weapon Maya, like Krishna and Kamadev. And at the moment before his defeat, she wove her own illusions and begged Krishna to carry her wherever he would wish, and do with her whatever he would wish. She enticed Krishna to leave the battlefield, that he might regather himself - both literally, by unifying his dividing individuality, but also in formulating a better strategy against Kamadev who would have won the day.

Krishna was utterly entranced by Radha. This was not only because she was a greater master of Maya than even Kamadev, but because of his love for Radha. Krishna-Radha merged in this love, and Vishnu was healed somewhat of his injuries. Vishnu, as Time, held the world still; Radha and Krishna danced in an endless night of joy, for years, hundreds of years, thousands of years, epochs of ages. Radha's love permeated all of Time, all of Vishnu. And the cowgirls, restored through Vishnu's health, danced and celebrated the love of Krishna-Radha with them; in Time, Krishna was healed.

Kamadev now cared nothing of secrecy and invisibility.  Kamadev revealed himself, and fired arrow after arrow at Radha! Radha revealed herself as Laxmi, and defended herself against every arrow; even while dancing with Vishnu, she was fighting Kamadev, Laxmi was inexhaustible. As Kamadev was about to be overwhelmed by Laxmi, Kamadev remembered his true fight was with Vishnu, and his purpose for the battle. He would not be destroyed without firing at least one more arrow at Krishna! Besides, there was only one who could overcome Laxmi, and that was Vishnu himself. He would confuse Vishnu, and make him fight against Laxmi!  (Now Kamadev had also forgotten who he was - Vishnu.  All three combatants were highly intoxicated by the Maya). 

With this last arrow, Krishna was terribly injured; he turned against Laxmi! Krishna saw Radha had used Maya against him, and began to misunderstand that for aggression. Ensnared by Maya, Krishna was so confused. Was Radha his enemy too? No, his love was too real to be obscured by Maya. Krishna loved and trusted her; she was a part of him. So Krishna reasoned Radha believed herself superior to the other cowgirls, and sought to seduce him. Thus, Krishna separated from Radha, and reminded her of her original request. he lifted her onto his shoulder. He was going to teach Radha a lesson - lifting Radha up, he disappeared right under her, letting her fall to the ground. Krishna left the battlefield.

Radha cried out in pain and surprise, but was consoled that her plan had worked. Krishna was safe, for the moment, from Kamadev. She was quickly found by the other cowgirls. Radha explained the situation, and suggested they return to the banks of the river to help Krishna.

They began to cry out to Krishna, reminding him of who he really was by recalling all of Vishnu's names and deeds. They tried to remind Krishna of what was real; by the instruction of Radha, they dispersed all the illusion, all they Maya. Then, dismayed, they wept, thinking Vishnu would never be wholly healed. This stirred Krishna's compassion, and he finally woke from the illusion to understand what had happened. He gathered himself, and reappeared among them.

Krishna was now more beautiful than before; he was not even trying to be beautiful - he actually was more beautiful now. Krishna explained he had been trying to teach Kamadev a lesson, but his own pride blinded him to his inexperience with Maya Yoga. His inexperience made him not really understand beauty. So, when he tried to entice Kamadev, he ended up enticing only himself - the cowgirls - he nearly destroyed himself with Maya, for the cowgirls were a part of himself. In the grip of his own Maya, Krishna mistook his own pride for theirs, and tried to teach them a lesson by disappearing. He forgot they were part of him. As he forgot even Radha was a part of him. He and they each grew more separated by this. Radha had reminded him of what true beauty was, and then Krishna understood his own pride prevented him from mastering Maya. Their efforts to disperse the Maya reflected his own efforts internally to wake from the illusion and defeat his pride, for they were one and the same being.

Krishna, now able to understand, was instructed in Maya Yoga by Radha, and learned sobriety, learned to refrain from desire, from emotion - and thus, as a master of Maya, defeated Kamadev: Krishna had conquered himself, and taught himself a lesson - and this inspired the undying love of Kamadev, who was also one and the same as Krishna, quite as much as any of the cowgirls.

Vishnu had made himself worthy of his pride, and in doing so, conquered it.