Radha is an all-too-human goddess, a sublime yet sensual emblem of mortal and divine love. She is subversive in that she possesses an autonomy rarely available to feminine deities. She lives by her own rules, and not those of the world. She is the essential Rasika, the aesthete of passion, and her wild heart belongs only to herself.
Like Sita, Radha is also a manifestation of Lakshmi. Radha is the essential shakti of Krishna, just as Sita is the consort of Rama.Yet their lives span very different arcs. Sita is the sterling emblem of familial duty, who unflinchingly complies with the diktats of her patriarchal and hierarchical world.
The lack of any textual references to Radha in the Mahabharata, and the only indirect allusions in the Srimad Bhagavatam, establish that the rebellious figure of Radha was born of the ahistorical collective consciousness of religion and culture. She was born of the need to establish a direct emotional and mystical relationship, a sensual, tactile, immersive connect, with the sacred. Radha’s divine lover,Krishna, was later married to Rukmini, and to Satyabhama, and later in some texts, to Jambavanti.
Yet he remained hers, and she his, in the hearts and minds of the devout.
India’s great epics and scriptures were born of orality; they have been retold, reinterpreted and reimagined through millennia. Even as the plasticity and porous narrative of oral traditions yielded to the stricter boundaries of textual veracity, the format of palm leaf manuscripts was amenable to interpolations and imaginative embellishment. These acts of appropriation and interpretation and translation through successive generations, through the centuries, led to the continuous rediscovery of the core stories, and kept them relevant and contemporary across the passage of time. They were birthed anew and belonged to each poet, scribe or bard, each dancer and sculptor, who bestowed them with form and creative reality.
The figure of Radha was first mentioned in the medieval period, in the exquisite Gita Govinda of the poet Jayadeva of modern day Odisha, and in the mahamantra of Radha and Krishna extolled by Nimbakacharya in the 11th and 12th centuries. This anthology carries many perspectives on how the visualisation and iconography of ‘Radharani’ evolved, through the Chaitanya school of Vaishnavism, and the philosophical and poetic interpretations of the Bhakti movement. These traditions were continued in the late 15th century in the magnificent poetry of Chandidas of Bengal and Vidyapati of Mithila, and later in the verses of the blind seer Surdas.
The essence of the relationship between Radha and Krishna resides in its spontaneous acquiescence to the moment of joyous union, and its disregard for imposed social boundaries in love, sacred or profane. This sense of abandonment, of surrender, would have been, and still is, exhilarating and liberating in a prescriptive and regimented society.
Finding Radha — The Quest For Love, Penguin Random House ■