The book, not surprisingly, begins with a comparison between Radha and Sita. Radha, like Sita, is also a manifestation of Lakshmi.
Radha, a symbol of divine love, “Shri Laadli Laal” (the most loved one), “a creeper of love” and the one, regarded as the greatest worshipper, transcends all social barriers to meet her lover. Oh she is so different from the ideal wife, Sita.
Whenever there is Radha, Sita in the form of moral police follows her. So is the case with the present work. Both the editors, having duly completed their anthology In Search of Sita embarked on a journey to find Radha. The book, with 24 articles and a wonderful collection of songs and bhajans on Radha, ranging from 7th century poets to Tagore, is dedicated to Radha, in all her forms and manifestations.
The book, not surprisingly, begins with a comparison between Radha and Sita. Radha, like Sita, is also a manifestation of Lakshmi. Sita is the consort of Rama and Radha is the essential shakti of Krishna so much so that “by the glimpse of her body Shyama’s darkness becomes lustrous green” (Makarand R. Paranjape, page 60). She symbolises duty, obedience and surrender to her husband. Radha follows the dictates of her heart. “While Sita renounces her personal interests in favour of social and familial duties, it is precisely those duties that Radha renounces in pursuit of her personal choices. Radha throws aside exactly the bonds that Sita accepts” (page181). Her love for Krishna overpowers societal disapproval.
Can we imagine Krishna without Radha? Certainly not! But Pierre Amiet and his fellow scholars argue that “there is no evidence of Krishna (or Radha) in sculpture or coinage or inscription before the current Era began” (page 7). Jawahar Sircar in his article, “In Search of the Historical Radha” presents a lesser known fact that Krishna was not visible in the Vedic period and his first mention appears after the Rig Veda had been completed. Makarand R. Paranjape also points out that Radha is not mentioned in the classical sources or scriptures (page 55). In fact, Krishna emerged as a deity “nearly one-and-a-half millenniums after the Vedas were first composed, while Radha took another 13 centuries more to make it to the top billing position” (Jawahar Sircar, page 11). Jawahar Sircar, through the use of scriptures, has documented the journey of a legend of Radha in the Prakrit as well as Brahmanical tradition and has successfully shown how a little tradition becomes a part of great tradition.
Meghnad Desai, hence, asks, “Why was it necessary to invent or create Radha? Why did she appear so late in the day as an afterthought?” She, strangely enough, disappears from the later story of Krishna. And still, we utter “Radha Krishna!” In fact, Krishna was lacking something. Rama had Sita, Vishnu had Lakshmi and Shiva had Parvati. Krishna needed one woman, not multiple wives only. It was during the Bhakti movement that the image of Radha emerged to complete Krishna. Meghnad Desai bluntly concludes that “Radha was created by the people to make a more lovable God than he would have been without her.”
The real credit for bringing Radha into mainstream Indian literature goes to Jayadeva and his work, Gita Govinda. Before Jayadeva, due to the influence of Buddhism and Jainism, Kama was demonised into Mara, something to be conquered or killed in order to seek spiritual salvation, but he made sensuality and romantic emotion the vehicle of the highest level of spirituality (Devdutt Patnaik, page 3). Kapila Vatsyayan has highlighted the role of the Gita Govinda in shaping the pictorial-style artworks of Rajasthan and especially the diminishing image of Kama. Yudit K. Greenberg has drawn a parallel between Gita Govinda and Shir Ha-Shirim, comprising one of the Hebrew Bible’s 24 books portraying the sensuous love between a shepherdess and a shepherd in the land of Israel. “Erotic love” is the common theme of the two works where the woman’s voice is the dominant one.
In order to experience this eternal love, one should have “Radha-bhava”, that is, by becoming Radha. Alka Pande has tried to delve into the union of the two (Advaita) through a number of questions, “Was Radha a reality?” “Did the divine lovers Radha and Krishna actually cross-dress?” Was it a stage of “leela hava”, a state of mind rather than a physical act of the divine love? A unity of atma and paramatma! The love of Radha and Krishna is so deep that it transcends gender identity. Krishna is clad as Radha and Radha as Krishna. However Radha declares, “Oh, Krishna you can look like me but you will never know the pain in my heart when we separate” (Alka Pande, page 41). This “viraha” or separation is a prominent emotion in the poetry of Kazi Nazrul Geeti, especially when he writes, “Shyam ! If only you were Radha” (Reba Som, page 115).
But Radha is not only a rasika but a rebel also. She puts everything at stake in love, including her family honour, friendship and above all, her soul. Radha, in every sense, represents feminine power and this book covers the varied aspects of her personality. Be it the starved life of the widows of Vrindavan, regarded as Radhas, or the hot avatar of “Radhe Maa”, the editors have tried to present fresh material as well as sources. Some of the articles stand out, some of the stories and songs remain with you but repetitive facts about Radha, Jayadeva and Chaitanya test your nerves.
The editors have termed this book as a quest and narrated their own version of “how did Radha come to them?” which borders on between Hindi cinema story and hard to digest. So is the story of an old lady (or Radha) who hasn’t eaten for days since her Krishna hasn’t partaken food. You wait with a throbbing heart but no, there is no clue. Did she finally eat or not? Did Krishna emerge as a savior?
This quest, just like Sita, is to flow with the tide (or market) of mythology craze… What say!
Kulbir Kaur teaches sociology at Shyama Prasad Mukherji College, Delhi University