Where is the term “mañjarī-bhāva” defined or mentioned in the works of the Goswāmīs or their important disciples and contemporaries? Is it anywhere in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu? No. Is it anywhere in Bhakti-sandarbha? Not as far as I know. This lack of mention in the two most important books defining the practice of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava sādhana should not be taken lightly, and thus the prominence and importance given to the “mañjarī-bhāva” theory should be subject to doubt and scrutiny.
Some say that 1.2.298 of Bhaktirasāmṛta Sindhu refers to mañjarī-bhāva. If this is the case, why don’t the two most important commentators (Śrī Jīva and Śrī Viśvanātha) mention anything about it in their comment on that text? Instead they both explain the text to mean that kāmānugā-sādhana has two aspects: the desire to please Krishna’s senses (sombhoga-icchā), and the desire to experience the sweet mood of the gopī’s love for Krishna (tat-tad-bhāva-icchā). They say that the second aspect is primary and the first is secondary. They distinguish the first as being useless if not having some mixture with the second, as was the case with Kubja of Mathurā.
If it doesn’t come from Śrī Rūpa or Śrī Jīva, the concept of “mañjarī-bhāva” must come from somewhere else. Where? I don’t know. Great contemporary scholars and practitioners of Gauḍiya Vaiṣṇavism such as Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and Paṇḍit Śrīla Haridās Śāstrī indicate (directly or indirectly) that it developed under some influence from the sahaja tradition born from a mating of Buddhism and Tantra. All I personally know for sure is that even Śrī Viśvanātha did not mention it as far as I know, which indicates to me that even several generations after Śrī Jīva, Śrī Viśvanātha either did not approve of the idea or it did not yet exist.
The word mañjarī is certainly used often by the Goswāmī’s of Vṛndāvana (but not as the compound “mañjarī-bhāva,” and not a denotation of a specific ideological package). The word mañjarī simply means “new flower.” The specific connotation is a girl who has newly become a woman. Any beautiful young lady may be referred to by the term mañjarī.
In Rādhā Krishna Gaṇodeśa Dīpika, Śrī Rūpa uses the term mañjarī several times. It is a suffix for the names of several gopīs. In texts 179-181 of the laghu section, he names several people defining a group he calls Rādhā’s Mañjarī. This is in a section where he defines Śrī Rādhā’s main friends. In 175 he names the [primary] parama-preṣṭha-sakhīs, in 176 he names the priya-sakhīs, in 177 he names the jīvita-sakhīs, in 178 he names the nitya-sakhīs. Then we come to to 179-181 where he names “rādhā-mañjarī” (“Rādhārāṇī’s new flowers”).
The names all end with “-mañjarī”. The list begins with anaṅga, and proceeds to rūpa, rati, lavaṅga, rāga, rasa, vilāsa, prema, maṇi, suvarṇa, kāma, ratna, kastūrī, gandha, netra, śrīpadma, līlā, hema. The name bhānumati is a synonym for Prema and Rati Mañjarī. We should also note that: (a) the suffix mañjarī is used for several gopīs who are not named here. And (b) anaṅga-mañjarī is listed here, even before Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī. (Some proponents of “mañjari-bhāva” claim that she is not truly among the group of “Rādhā’s Mañjarī,” because she obviously has direct relations with Krishna).
In 183, Śrī Rūpa says that all the categories of Rādhā’s friends listed above possess forms and qualities very, very similar to her own. He makes no further stipulation about what a “mañjarī” is, so far as I know.
Śrī Raghunātha dās Goswāmī’s Vilāp Kuśmañjalī also doesn’t explicitly define mañjarī-bhāva, although most of the current concept of it is based on this book, which shows Śrī Raghunātha to be more dedicated to Śrī Rādhā than directly to Śrī Krishna. But all of Rādhārāṇī’s friends, not just the mañjarī, are primarily dedicated to her, and serve Krishna through her. She is their divine conduit, much as a telescope or microscope is the conduit for the human eye to observe the universe.
The mañjari-bhāva theory, as it exists today, is not entirely disagreeable to me, but some of the portions I disagree with (not all of which are held by all proponents) are: (a) The idea that jīva can become a mañjarī, but not any other type of gopī. (b) The idea that mañjarī do not interact with Krishna directly. (c) The idea that mañjarī are very young (below puberty). And (d) The idea that mañjarī-bhāva is essential to the Rūpānuga conception of Bhakti-yoga. Some of the principles held by the mañjarī-bhāva theory are indeed important to Śrī Rūpa’s conception, but the idea that mañjarī-bhāva is a discrete philosophical entity of central importance is, in my estimation, untrue.
The opening verse of Vilāpa-Kuśmāñjali is exquisite. It is a part of 6 poems that form a maṅgalācarana by glorifying the author’s benefactors, inspirations, and exemplars. The first 2 glorify Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī. The 3rd glorifies Śrī Rati Mañjarī. These are the author’s gurus in the siddha-deha. The next three glorify the author’s gurus in the sādhaka-deha. The 4th glorifies his mantra-guru Śrī Yadunandana. The 5th glorifies his śikṣā-guru, Śrī Svarūpa Dāmodara, who instructed him on behalf of Śrī Krishna Caitanya. The 6th glorifies his śikṣa-guru especially in the path of renunciation, Śrī Sanātana. At the 7th verse, the introduction ends and the main subject begins.
The opening verse is
tvaṁ rūpa-mañjari sakhi prathitā pure’smin
puṁsaḥ parasya vadanaṁ na hi paśyasīti
bimbādhare kṣatam anāgate-bhartṛkāyā
yat te vyadhāyi kim u tac chuka-puṅgavena?
You, Rūpa Mañjari, are the most famous Sakhī in this city (Vraja-maṇḍala). [You say] you certainly have not even seen the mouth of the Supreme Male, yet the Bimba-fruits of your lips have bite marks, and your husband is nowhere to be found. So what really happened? Did some great parrot try to eat your lips?
Ananta dās Bābājī suggests in his commentary that the answer is that Krishna has bitten Śrī Rādhā’s lips, and that Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī’s unity with Śrī Rādhā is so extensive that the bite mark shows on her own lips. As beautiful as that explanation is, the verse itself clearly shows that Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī does not lack anything to be had from direct interaction with Krishna. Whether Krishna directly kissed her, or whether she experienced Krishna’s kiss by him kissing Śrī Rādhā, in either case, she experiences Krishna’s kiss, as the evidence (the bite mark on her lips) clearly demonstrates. This certainly calls into doubt the mañjarī-bhāva theory that aspiration of a kāmānugā-sādhaka should exclude any direct interaction with Krishna.
The second verse also clarifies that Śrī Rūpa and Śrī Krishna have one-to-one interaction (against the idea held by the modern mañjari-bhāva theory). Here it is. It is extremely beautiful.
sthala-kamalini yuktaṁ garvitā kānane’smin
praṇayasi vara-hāsyaṁ puṣpa-guccha-cchalena
api nikhila-latās tāḥ saurabhāktaḥ sa muñcan
mṛgayati tava mārgaṁ kṛṣṇa-bhṛṅgo yad adya
[Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī] is as proud as a magnolia tree in full bloom amidst the trees of this [Vṛndāvana] forest. She hides her beautiful smile of pride by causing [that Magnolia tree] to erupt in blossoms. [Why is she so joyfully proud?] The Krishna bee ignores all the other fragrant vines just to constantly search for her.
This doesn’t uphold the idea that the only reason she has bite marks on her lip is because Krishna has kissed Śrī Rādhā. Instead it clearly shows that Krishna personally comes to kiss her.
I do not mean to pretend that I realize or fully understand such things. But I would like my approach to understanding and realizing them to be free from obstacles and directly in the footsteps of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s most important followers, particularly Śrī Rūpa, Śrī Raghunātha, and Śrī Jīva.
I am warmly open to discussion with learned persons on this subject.