On a day when love is in the air (besides being at the florists, the jewellers and all sorts of gift shops), it would be sacrilegious to talk of anything, but love. A romantic love story of mythical times, may be? Amongst all the love stories, it is that of Radha-Krishna which comes to my mind and why not? Radha-Krishna and their love has been a subject of much reverence as well as ridicule. The modern times sees the escapades of the two through the coloured glasses and with a wink of the eye.
So what is it about them, which though scandalous at times, grandparents do not shy away from sharing it with children? In a closed society like ours, why has such romance between the two been allowed and venerated? Even though the typical pictorial representation of Radha and Krishna has never showed the difference of age, it is well known that Radha was both older than
Krishna as well as married.
To begin with who exactly was Radha? Some say she was
Krishna’s maternal uncles wife (his maternal aunt to be precise), whereas some say she was just another, but a favourite gopi (milkmaid). Radha was considered to be the daughter of one Vrishbhanu and that she grew up in Barsana. Nothing much seems to be mentioned about her childhood. The most important thing to note is that there has been no mention of Radha as a character in any of the ancient literatures, be it Bhagavata, or the Vishnu Purana or Harivamsa or even the Mahabharata. There is no trace of Radha in any of the main texts even though Krishna is a prominent personality in all of them. Radha first appears in the Brahmavaivarta Purana but is not available for any significant reference.
Radha was brought into prominence by Jayadeva, the author of Geet-Govinda, around 12th century CE. Jayadeva was from a village in Orissa and was the court poet of the-then King of Bengal, and wrote this poem during his alleged relationship with a devdasi, Padmavati. He is later supposed to have married her. His inspiration was both his personal love affair as well as his spiritual quest. The poem explores the relationship of Radha and
Krishna in all the elements of a relationship, which is both a divine and an erotic exploration, with all the aspects of love. The poem brought in a momentum in the Vaishnav sect of the times and soon Bengal saw a series of spiritual writers like Vidyapati and Chandidas writing on the relationship of Radha and Krishna. Radha was on her way to deification.
The relationship raised eyebrows and the eroticism was more than evident. What did all this imply, especially when all know that
Krishna’s stay at Vrindavan was part of his childhood? This divine relationship is to be seen through metaphysical glasses and it is then that the beauty of it all is so evident.
The root of the word Radha is ‘Radh’ * implies worship, adoration. To take this further, anyone who worships or adores
Krishna is Radha. It seems that Radha was more of a concept than a person. The aspect of her love defines the love for god. Selfless devotion, not craving for a name to the relationship and forgetting herself in him, was the main aspect of this kind of devotion. Radha’s love did not arise out of a compulsion of being god-fearing, she loved Krishna in an absolute terms. It was not a love of subjugation, but a love of equality.
Another aspect of her love is the age factor, especially the difference. To see this in a different angle, god is ageless, so
Krishna being a child was of no major significance. Needless to mention that even at that age, some of the acts performed by him were beyond his age. Radha being older is to be seen as her being an adult who knew what she was doing. This took the relationship beyond the realm of infatuation. One could not submit to someone without knowing what one was doing, and her being an adult made it more acceptable, than if she was portrayed as a child.
Finally, Radha being married was to be seen as someone who was married to the societal norms and responsibilities laid by the society at large. Her seeking
Krishna was someone seeking redemption by being within the society and without shirking her immediate responsibilities. Nowhere do we get a sense of her marital life being unfulfilled.
This relationship defined a spiritual quest of a different kind. This was a love of equals and here god is treated at par.
Krishna was not a god and Radha was not a goddess. I would end with a beautiful myth which epitomises the relationship. Once, the gopis, who were jealous of Radha, took boiling milk to her asking her to drink it as requested by Krishna. Radha gulped down the milk and got back to her work, which surprised all of them, but left without saying anything. Later when they met Krishna, they saw that he had burnt his mouth and throat! This could be stuff of poetic fantasy, but it epitomises the divine relationship.
This love story is not for all to tarnish, but to see the deeper meaning in the romance. At the cost of repetition, I must add – in myth lies the message.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Krishna Charitra’ – By Bankim Chandra Chatterjee