Radhaa: The Silent Lover — Nupur Behl

Radhaa is the divine consort of Krishna. At a superficial level or to the incognizant mind, Radhaa’s worship beside Krishna may sound as complex a ritual as there may appear many other rituals within Hinduism. (Radhaa and Krishna are after all not married to each other and their relation in this sense is illicit). But a deeper philosophy provides us an answer which is not only simple, beautiful and sublime, but also the one that transcends the apparent ritualistic contradictions and complexities which we often think are extant in the Hindu thought.  This paper aims to understand the position and the role of Radhaa in the Hindu philosophy.



Radhaa sees you everywhere

as drinking sweetness from her lip.

Radhaa serves you in the house.


Moving in the haste to meet you

She takes her little steps and falls

Radhaa serves you in the house.


With bracelets of white lotus shoots

she keeps alive that doubtful love

Radhaa serves you in the house.   (GeetGovindam, 6.12, trans. C John Holcombe)

Radhaa is Krishna’s consort. In the texts where her references are explicit, we find that of all the ‘gopis’ (milkmaids), she is the closest and the dearest to Krishna.  But, at the same time, we find that Radhaa and Krishna do not consummate their love into marriage. In fact, Krishna does not marry any of his beloved gopis. His wives are the famous princesses of grand and rich status.  Also, references of Radhaa in the Indian classical texts came up much later. We can find the first such reference in Jayadev’s GeetGovindam. Prior to this, Krishna was depicted sporting with all the Vraj (Vrindavan) gopis, instead of showering all his love and attention on one consort. So, the very reference of Radhaa in the stream of the Hindu, and in particular, the Vaishnava consciousness should signify something meaningful and important. Besides being a cowherd girl who witnesses all the grand and the miraculous spectacles of baal gopaala, (infant Krishna), she participates with him in the rasa liilaa.  What does then, Radhaa symbolize and why is she, and not the wives of Krishna, worshipped beside him? My paper will attempt to answer some of the fundamental, yet essential Hindu philosophical concepts pertaining to Radhaa, by closely studying two texts, viz a vie Jayadev’s poem GeetGovindam and Panuganti Lakshmi Narasimha Rao’s play Radhakrishna.

The practice of Bhakti (the union with the divine) is a central Hindu philosophic thought, which aims at the attainment of salvation. There, however, needs to be an external guiding force, which can show the ‘maarga’ (path) towards Bhakti. This external force may come to us in the form of scriptures, or a guru. On the other hand, we may say that Krishna’s lively sporting with the gopis reflects Bhakti. The gopis are deeply in love with Krishna, and they leave all their work, duties and responsibilities aside, to sport with him.[1] This complete surrender to the lord is Bhakti. Not only one who participates in it seeks pleasure in its enriched rasa, but also the one who simply listens to it rejoices. Thus, the gopis become the embodiment of the knowledge which guides us to Krishna. “…since rasa is existentially a matter of experience, it is appropriate that the words of scriptures become embodied in the form of gopis; who function as guru…by exhibiting rasa…”[2]

 At the center of all this is Radhaa, who is Bhakti personified. She stands for total surrender and eternal love. Among the gopas and the gopis of Vrindavan, and among the other devotees she is the ‘dhaaraa’; the connecting stream which relates the devotee with the devoted.  In the sagun Bhakti tradition, union with the Supreme draws on varied emotions (bhaava) through which the devotee approaches the deity. These may arise out of the relevant associations which one makes with the deity: of a servant, a lover, a mother or a friend. Radhaa satiates all these roles, and hence becomes the exemplar of Bhakti, in its purest form. She manifests herself in the form of gopis and offers varied emotions for satisfying Krishna.[3] Often, in the absence of her beloved, she mourns and feels desolate. However, her sense of longing is not for her personal and sensual gratification. In the GeetGovindam, she recalls the time when Krishna made love to her. She wishes her beloved to return to her and seek pleasure in being with her, as before. [4]  Interestingly, her sensuality therefore, lays “in the enjoyment of being enjoyed”: Both Radhaa and her consort share a mutual love and each one of them is willing to negate oneself for the sake of the other. [5]

Taking cue from the Gaudiya sampradaya, Rao, in his play, Radhakrishna, epitomizes Raadhaa as the eternal, indefatigable power of Bhakti. Although dejected in the absence of Krishna, the idea to punish her lover gives Radhaa jitters. She doesn’t want Krishna to run after her and to fret for her: “Would it not be wickedness on my part? Won’t his tender feet become sore? Wont his lips image with his hot gasping breath…” [6] Rao’s Radhaa is very patient and clam and understands that the cowherd Krishna belongs to all the gopis. She says: “I know my lord, my husband is a husband to several other women…let all of them attain deliverance through his grace…” [7] Whenever possible she offers him her service: “May I wipe away, with the edge of my saree, the pearls of sweat from your radiant cheeks? May I caringly rock you in the cradle of the creepers of my arm to nap…” [8] As a ‘bhakta’ par excellence, she acts as the lover, server and the mother.  

In a way, the love between both Radhaa and Krishna exemplifies the love which is manifested in the secular image of the lovers. Radhaa does everything which any ordinary woman may do for her beloved. These emotions are vividly articulated in the GeetGovindam. Radhaa feels jealous seeing Krishna sport with the other Gopis. She burns in the absence of Krishna, and awaits his return. Krishna, on the other hand, realizes his mistake and longs for Raadhaa. Both pine for each other, until their final union. Thus, beneath the explicit erotic overtones, the GeetGovindam portrays the emotions which are experienced by the human lovers, and transfers them onto the love play of the lord and his consort. Hence, with Radhaa as Krishna’s consort, the Bhakti maarga becomes clearly defined and exemplified. Without her, perhaps, there can be no liilaa, and henceforth, no Bhakti.

At the same time, it is important to mention that both Radhaa and Krishna stand apart from the figure of archetypal lovers, for unlike the latter, their love is not consummated in a nuptial bond. We find that Radhaa is married to another man, and so are the other gopis. However, their intimacy with Krishna is not an illicit one. Their love for Krishna is transcendental and by no mean conformed to the social milieu, which bears many responsibilities, codes of conduct and thus, endless conformities. In a married life, these may occur in the form of bearing children, taking responsibility of families, etc. In this sense, their love is pure and eternal. This concept of love relates well with the “madhurya bhaava” (sweetness), as opposed to the “aishwarya bhaava” (social pleasures). And in this way, Radhaa comes to represent a consciousness which is ‘jaagruta’, that is, the one which never dies: She is that force of love and Bhakti, which is eternal. In contrast, much as the married gopis, Krishna is charged with social responsibilities (of a king), and his marriage can be understood in this light.

Quite interestingly, a similar idea gets conveyed in Rao’s play. The long exchange of dialogues and meetings between queen Satyabhaamaa (one of Krishna’s wives) and Krishna (the king) takes place within the walls of the palace and the queen’s chamber. As a wife, not only is Satyabhaamaa envious of Radhaa, but draws clear distinctions between her and Radhaa on the basis of class.[9] Unlike Radhaa, Satyabhaamaa’s jealousy and anger need to be pacified and her ego inflated each time she witnesses her husband mention the name of the “other” woman: Radhaa. Thus, as a queen, Satyabhaamaa circumscribes herself to the social responsibilities, and issues of status and class. Conversely, Radhaa’s union with Krishna is always pictured in the idyllic settings; in the lap of nature. Moreover, Radhaa refuses to accept Krishna as her lover when he is in the guise of a king. She demands that he must appear as the cowherd boy, who is the cynosure of all the gopis: “And it is not a king who stole my mind, But a tender and very plain cowherd…” [10]We can therefore see that the husband- wife relation bears the mark of social responsibilities and is socially circumscribed. The figure of Radhaa, however, conveys that as the force of Bhakti, she transcends all social norms.

Radhaa also stands for the ‘aadhaar’ (the basis) of all existence. In the Indic religious systems, the male deities are often worshipped with their female consorts, and so, Krishna too has his consort in the female form of Radhaa: “She embodied in a Goddess, has the turning world cast down”. [11]Thus, the female deity is the Shakti (the one who sustains the world). Unlike Krishna, Radhaa does not represent the godly or the kingly power, but the power of nature, the idyllic, which sustains all forms of life, including Krishna. Together, they exist as the cosmic dualities that are inseparable. This reality is most explicitly celebrated in the GeetGovindam: Jayadev’s protagonists (Radhaa and Krishna) long for the embrace of each other and their erotic desires are finally fulfilled with their union. Also, the poem beautifully dissolves all binaries of the male and the female; you and me.  Radhaa says: “As I am ornament in play, I am Krishna too in this…”[12]

Both as Shakti, and as Krishna’s beloved, Radhaa has the power to destroy all temporal attachments and material realities. As shakti, “she is the sharp sword of Krishna that cuts the bonds of karma, allowing the true seekers to differentiate between the real and the eternal (Krishna) from the impermanent (the desires and the wealth of the world)” [13] Because Radhaa is the embodiment of nature, she is also the maaya, the one who is responsible for making all the apparent and temporal functioning seem real. Nonetheless, it is through this maaya that the Supreme, from his nirguna form, descends on earth, assuming a form. Through maaya, then the Supreme assumes the role of a friend, lover, and guide, thus evoking an intense relation with his devotees, and showing them the path of liberation.  

Henceforth, Radhaa is the silent lover of Krishna. Without any complaint, she renounces her material duties and comforts for him.  One can contend that she operates as the conscious force which draws us closer to Krishna and for this, she manifests herself in several forms of Bhakti; in the idol worships, bhajans, kiirtana, satsang, dhyaana and knowledge (gyana) Just as Krishna, she is omnipresent because she exists in every maarga (path) which leads to him. In the Hindu classical literary traditions, she comes to symbolize the feminine principle that creates the world through the power of maaya, and without her nothing can function. In the Shaivite systems of belief, the idols of Shiva and Paarvati, manifested as ‘Ardhnaariishvara’ represent the importance of a dual cosmic existence for the sustenance of the world. Similarly, in the Vaishnava thought, this duality is celebrated through the symbolic figures of Radhaa and Krishna. In the holy chants of all the Vaishnavas, the name of Radhaa is the first spoken word, only after which the name of Krishna is spoken. This explicitly defines the importance given to Radhaa in the Hindu philosophic, spiritual and mystical contexts.

[1] ShreemadBhagvat Purana, Ed. By Vishnupriya, prime Publishing Company, 2006: Book 4, pg: 2752,   2753

[2] The Divine Consort, Ed.By John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff ,1982: ‘ Raadhaa: The Play and the Perfection of Rasa’ by Shrivastava Goswami, pg.75-76

[3] Ibid, “Theology of Raadhaa” by C.Mackenzie Brown, pg. 63: ‘After Raadhaa’s own coming into being, there emanate from her body thousands upon thousands of other gopis…”

[4] GeetGovindam, Jayadev, Trans. By C. John Holcombe: 6.8:” By him deserted, Raadhaa knows such sadness as a tale, and slowly makes its way. Why can’t Keshi’s foe, my friend, reform his ways, and meet me in desiring him?”

[5] The Divine Consort, Ibid: “ Raadhaa: The Play and Perfection of Rasa” by Shrivastava Goswami, pg. 83

[6] Radhakrishna by Panuganti Lakshmi Narasimha Rao , Trans. Kolachala Gopalkrishna Murti and Mudigonda Veerabhadra Sastry, 2002, Sahitya Academy,  Act 1, Pg. 18

[7] Ibid, Act 3 pg.48

[8] Ibid, Act 3, pg.56

[9] Ibid, Act 2, pg. 39: Satyabhaamaa tells Krishna: “…how could you mistake me for Raadhaa who has neither caste nor dignity and who lustfully fell on you on her own…”

[10] Ibid, Act 3, pg. 62

[11] Geet Govindam, Ibid, 3.7.11

[12] Ibid, 6.12.4

[13] The Divine consort ,Ibid: “The Theology of Raadhaa in the Puraans” by C. Mackenzie Brown, pg. 68

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