Radha is very different from the other goddesses in the mythologies of the world. Radha is closer to human life and human beings. But who is Radha?

by Muhammad Tanim Nowshad

She (also called Radhika) is a Hindu goddess and consort of the god Krishna. She is worshipped as the goddess of love, beauty, tenderness, compassion and devotion. Her love story is the subject of exquisite exponents of Hindu art and poetry and the centre of gravity of Vaishnava literature. She is described as the chief of the gopis (milkmaids). According to Hindu mythology, during Krishna’s youth, she appears as his lover and companion, although he is not married to her. This is the beginning of his tragedy. In contrast, some traditions give Radha the status of Krishna’s chief consort and wife. But some traditions described her extramarital relationship with Krishna. This wreaked havoc in her life, but became the source of poetry and song in Vaishnavism.

Radha, as the supreme goddess in the Vaishnava and Sakta traditions, is regarded as the eternal female counterpart and the inner potency and power of creativity (hladini shakti) of Krishna, who resides with him in his dwelling Goloka Vrindavana – the eternal supreme dwelling place of Krishna and Radha. Radha symbolises the human soul who travels through eternity seeking union with divinity because although she is an avatar of the goddess Laksmi, in this world she is a human being. The relationship of Radna and Krishna is considered the upward form of devotion and represents the ideal love between the lover and the beloved.

We can also explain this philosophy from the perspective of Ramanuja, a great Indian philosopher (1017-1137), and his Vishishtadvaita (special non-dualism). From his point of view, we can say that as a human form Radha is a limited being, being worshipped as a limited deity. But she has an absolute eternal form, where she is the mother of the universe. She pervades every part of this cosmos.

It is paradoxical that Radha is the goddess of love and beauty, her worldly life is full of sadness and sorrow. In Sri Krishna Kirtan by Baru Chandi Das, we read that she was cursed with an impotent husband, who was unable to satisfy her sexually. But she did not accept this reality like the traditional fatalistic village girls. When she used to go out to sell milk, she met Krishna, her future lover. Although Krishna was much younger than Radha, he wanted to seduce her. Initially, Radha did not agree to any relationship with him. But she needed someone to fulfil her life with pleasure and dignity. Krishna played the flute very well and with the music of the flute he could mesmerise all the women of the village. Krishna made every effort to seduce her. Radha finally gave in. In Vrindavana Radha met her divine lover, with whom she always remains in her eternal life.

But Radha was the wife of another person, named Ayan Ghosh. He was a wool merchant, some say, and travelled far and wide selling his wares, leaving his lovely young bride in the care of her mother and sisters.

It is a matter of debate among Vaishnava sects whether Radha’s love for Krishna was sexual or asexual. But her love for Krishna damaged her social reputation and her relationship with her husband’s family. Members of the society started defaming her. She endured everything and was committed to her love. The daily torments she suffered because of society and her longing for Krishna have been expressed by Vaishnava poets. In the Middle Ages, both Hindu and Muslim poets wrote extensively on this subject.

But one day Krishna had to leave it. He went to Mathura because he had much to do. He had to kill the tyrant king Kamsa and establish peace there. Though he always loved Radha, he never went back to her. Why? This remains a question. But Radha was always committed to his love. She never loved The Nobodies anymore. She is still waiting for Krishna on the bank of the Jamuna river under a Kadamba tree, where they used to meet.

I have visited many Vaishnava temples. Devotees weep fervently when they remember the anguish and sorrows of their queen “Sri Radha”. Her sorrows touch my heart. According to Brahma Vaivarta Purana and Garga Samhita, Krishna met Radha again after 100 years of separation. But the separation narrative gave birth to Radhaism and some branches of Vaishnavism.

Radha is a rebellious character. She was despised, hated and boycotted by the society. Although she is very saintly, she is taboo for many communities because of her extra-marital relationship. Devdutt Pattanaik wrote: “It is impossible to think of Krishna without Radha. This is a story of eternal love, the source of romantic songs. And yet some of the largest Krishna temples in India do not enshrine Radha’s image. At Puri in Orissa, Krishna is enshrined with Subhadra, his sister, and Balaram, his brother. In Udupi of Karnataka or Guruvayoor of Kerala or Nathdvara of Rajasthan, Krishna remains alone as a cowherd boy. In Pandharpur of Maharashtra and Dwarka of Gujarat, he is alone; the temple of his wife Rukmini is nearby. Even the Bhagavat Purana, the holiest book on the Krishna narrative, does not mention Radha”.

Radha is an extraordinary mythological character. At least 100,000 songs have been written in some 50 languages, including Sanskrit, Brajabuli, Maithili, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telegu, Kanari, Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Malayalam, Odia.

Many historians think of her as a historical figure. Later she was established as a deity. Shashibhusan Dasgupta (1911-1964), the Bengali theologian, and recently Charlotte Vaudeville (1918-2006), the French Indologist, showed that Radha appeared in Alvar literature. The Alvar were the Tamil poet-saints of South India, who are considered to have lived between 4200 BC and 2700 BC. In their literature, we find a character, whose name is Nappinnai. She is also very beautiful and a reincarnated being of the goddess Laksmi. But the story of Nappinnai did not face any tragedy. Therefore, this story could not touch the human heart in profundity.

Radha’s revolt against society also touched us emotionally. People say she is the most powerful symbol of love. I say, “Yes, she is. But she is also a symbol of revolt”.