We have explored the definition and functions of māyā in many articles elsewhere on this site. In the tenth canto of the Bhāgavata, we also hear about two types of māyā – yogamāyā and mahamāyā. Here I explore Śrī Viśvanātha’s explanation of the difference between the two.
yogamāyā and mahamāyā are related as aṁśi and aṁśa (whole and part)
Śrī Viśvanātha’s commentary on SB 10.1.25 is especially useful for us. The verse is:
viṣṇor māyā bhagavatī yayā sammohitaṁ jagat |
ādiṣṭā prabhuṇāṁśena kāryārthe sambhaviṣyati ||
Śrī Viśvanātha in his commentary on this verse first explains that there are two māyās with two distinct functions:
kiṁ ca, sva-līlā-parikarāṇāṁ bhaktānāṁ bhakta-dviṣāṁ kaṁsādīnāṁ ca mohanārthaṁ yogamāyāṁ māyāṁ cādiśad ity āha
– Furthermore, for the purpose of covering the awareness of His devotees, who are associates in His own līlās, and of Kaṁsa and others, who are haters of His devotees, He ordered yogamāyā and māyā.
He glosses individual words as follows:
viṣṇor māyā = yoga-māyā (based on the explicit use of this word in bhā.pu. 10.2.6)
prabhuṇā = by Śrī Kṛṣṇa
aṁśena = aṁśena saha = svāṁśa-bhūta-bahiraṅga-māyā-sahitaiva =along with her aṁśa, bahiraṅga-māyā-śakti,
Thus, the meaning of the verse is:
Ordered by Śrī Kṛṣṇa, Visnu’s all-powerful Yoga-māyā, by whom the [transcendental and material] world is deluded, will manifest along with her aṁśa, Bahiraṅga-māyā-śakti, for covering the awareness of Śrī Yaśodā and others.
Śrī Viśvanātha supports this interpretation further by citing a verse from the Nārada-pañcarātra which explicitly mentions that mahā-māyā is yoga-māyā’s aṁśa (I did not include it here).
yogamāyā and mahamāyā have distinct functions
In his commentary on a verse in the 13th chapter of the tenth canto of the Bhāgavata, in the context of the Brahmā-vimohana līḷā, Śrī Viśvanātha makes the distinction between them more clear (10.13.57):
yā vāstavaṁ vastvāvṛṇoti avāstava-vastv eva darśayati sā māyā – that which covers the eternal reality, and displays the temporary [material] reality is [mahā]māyā
yā tu vāstava-vastūnām api madhye kim apy āvṛṇoti kim api darśayati sā yogamāyeti – among the eternal realities, that which covers some and reveals some, is yogamāyā.
Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s covering of the original cowherd boys, the displaying of Himself as the cowherd boys, covering those cowherd boys and displaying of many Śrī Viṣṇu forms, and then subsequent covering of all of them, and just displaying Himself to Śrī Brahmā, were all feats of His yogamāyā. This follows from the definition above.
What is mahā-māyā’s role in the līḷā then? She became Śrī Devakī’s daughter, and cheated Kaṁsa who tried to hurl her to the ground in Kaṁsa’s prison. Kaṁsa cannot touch transcendental yoga-māyā, and so mahā-māyā was needed to allow this to happen. She flew out of Kaṁsa’s hand in the form of Vindhyācala-nivāsinī (the resident of the Vindhyā mountains) and become well known as Śrī Durgā.
Śrī Viśvanātha’s discussion gets more and more interesting and rich in insight as he goes along. When Śrī Kṛṣṇa showed Duryodhana his viśvarūpa in the assembly at Kurukṣetra, there was no effect on him. Duryodhana dismissed it as some kind of magic. This was the influence of mahā-māyā. Another example is when Śrī Kṛṣṇa fought with Śālva. At that time he was mounted on Garuḍa. Śālva knew that Garuḍa was Śrī Viṣṇu’s carrier. Yet, he did not put two and two together and recognize Śrī Kṛṣṇa- again the influence of mahā-māyā.
So the two māyās have different objects of bewilderment as well:
bhagavad-unmukha mohanam = Yoga-māyā’s function = bewildering those who are turned toward Bhagavān.
bhagavad-vimukha mohanam = Mahā-māyā’s function = bewildering those who are turned away from Bhagavān.
The lack of awareness of Śrī Yaśodā and Śrī Nanda that Śrī Kṛṣṇa is Bhagavan is not due to yoga-māyā
Śrī Viśvanātha concludes his commentary with an important point. Similar to Duryodhana, Śrī Yaśodā was unimpressed when she saw Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s viśvarūpa in His mouth. Likewise Nanda Mahārāja was unmoved when he saw Varuṇa and his associates worship Śrī Kṛṣṇa. In fact, they loved their son even more. Which of the two māyās brought this bewilderment about? None of them!
viśva-rūpa-varuṇa-lokādi-darśanānte vātsalyādi-bhāvādhikyatvenaiśvarya-jñāne’py asambhramād evaiśvaryānanusandhāna-lakṣaṇaṁ mohanaṁ tat na yoga-māyayā nāpi māyayā, kintu premṇa eva sa svabhāvaḥ yaḥ khalu bhagavad-aiśvarya-jñānam āvṛṇvan cinmaya-mamatā-raśanayā śrī-kṛṣṇaṁ nibadhya pratikṣaṇaṁ tasmin snehādhikyam utpādayan tan-mādhuryāsvāda-mahodadhau bhakta-janaṁ nimajjayatīty asādhāraṇa-lakṣaṇa-jñāpyo bhavaty
Despite learning about Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s Lordship after seeing the viśva-rūpa, and the episode of varuṇa etc., due to extreme vātsalya bhāva for Him, they remain unperturbed. This bewilderment, characterized by a lack of appreciation for His aiśvarya, is not due to yoga-māyā nor mahā-māyā, but it is the nature of prema. This prema covers the knowedge of aiśvarya of Bhagavān, and binding Śrī Kṛṣṇa with the ropes of transcendental ‘my’-ness, generates love for Him every second, and drowns the devotees in the great ocean of the experience of His sweetness. This is the unique characteristic of prema that is to be deduced.
He adds that the bewilderment induced by prema (mohana) is also sometimes referred to as māyā, because it shares the characteristic of mohanam with māyā. Thus, prema is referred to in 10.8.43 as māyā – vaiṣṇavīṁ vyatanon māyāṁ putra-sneha-mayīṁ vibhuḥ – Śrī Kṛṣṇa expanded His vaiṣṇavī māyā, which has the unique characteristic of vātsalya-prema.
There are three types of bewilderment, caused by three distinct entities. Yoga-māyā bewilders the devotees by concealing some aspect(s) of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and displaying some other aspect(s). Mahā-māyā bewilders the non-devotees, by covering Śrī Kṛṣṇa completely and displaying Him to be ordinary, or displaying the material world in His place. Prema covers awareness of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s aiśvarya.