Hinduism is so very complex isn’t it! I call myself a Hindu but have only a limited understanding of all that it involves. It is such an inclusive religion, seemingly accepting quite contrary thoughts and ideas within itself! I picture Hinduism as a tree with the Vedas forming the strong roots of its philosophy. The trunk is made up of the scriptures such as the Upanishads, the Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Bhagawat Gita, all of which support and are supported by the Vedas. The trunk leads to many branches with their own scriptures. Though these branches may lead in different directions, they all belong together to form a whole. The tree being a living thing, it changes shape constantly as branches form and wither, and leaves grow and fall over time. But yet through all the changes, it remains the same.
In this ever-changing tableau, even the Gods have no permanence. For example, Indra is one the most prominent deities in the Rigveda but I don’t think any household altar in India today will have a place for him. Krishna was not even mentioned in the Vedas; some scholars quote a single mention in the Chandogya Upanishad which may or may not refer to the same Krishna. The first mention seems to be in the Mahabharata. His story comes to us in fragments – his adulthood in Mahabharata (4 BC or earlier), his childhood in Harivamsa Purana (2 BC or earlier) and Srimad Bhagavata Purana (10 AD or earlier) and Krishna as an avatar in Vishnu Purana (1 AD or earlier). Of course dating these ancient works is futile as these were fluid works which were transmitted in an oral tradition, developing into their current known form over time. So even a deity as beloved as Krishna has no fixed reference for his story.
Coming to Radha, my subject for today, her arrival into the folds of Hindu thought is even more nebulous than most others. She is not mentioned in Mahabharata at all, nor in Srimad Bhagavata Purana. There is a mention of her in Prakrit literature e.g. in Sattasai by Hala (6 AD or earlier), Gaudavaho by Vakpati (8 AD or earlier), Venisamhara by Bhatta Narayana (9 AD or earlier) etc. There is also mention in some early works in Sanskrit such as Dasavatara Charita (11 AD) by Kshemendra. These early works may have inspired Jayadeva but it his Radha of Gita Govinda (12 AD) who is the Radha we know today. In the South, there is a stream of thought that Napinnai of Silappadikaram (6 AD or earlier) is the same as Radha. If that is true, then this may well be the earliest known mention of Radha.
There are many unanswered questions about Radha. Was Radha real or is she just a figment of a poet’s imagination? Weren’t Krishna and Radha just small children when Krishna lived in Vrindavan so why the eroticism? He went to Mathura to kill Kamsa when he was still a pre-teen, didn’t he? Some say that Radha was a teenager when Krishna was a baby, her love and affection for Krishna pure and platonic, very different to the erotic love in Gita Govinda. If Krishna loved her so much, why did he never send for her after he left Vrindavan? Is Radha just an amsha of Krishna, a representation of one part of his nature? I have no answers. Personally, it makes no difference to my own beliefs but I do know that others may feel strongly one way or the other.
Whatever is the truth of Radha, it is Jayadeva’s poetry which led to her worship as a Goddess. Other poets continued what Jayadeva started, writing about the love of Radha and Krishna in local languages such as Govindadasa and Vidyapati in Bengali. As long as the monastic religions of Buddhism and Jainism had a stronghold, romantic desire was seen as something to be conquered. But by 12 AD, Buddhism was already in a decline in India. This was the world to which Jayadeva brought his highly erotic work about Radha and Krishna. With his songs gaining fame, sensuality came to be seen as one more path to spirituality. Slowly some parts of India, mainly along the Ganges, took to worshipping Radha as the consort of Krishna. Though not worshipped in the South of India, she is definitely accepted by Srivaishnavas as Vedanta Desika himself mentions Radha in Yadavabhyudaya.
What a long prologue I have given to my choice of song today! I found the subject interesting so got a bit carried away…
Today I bring to you a song about Radha written by Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyer (1700-1765). Rarely did Carnatic vaggeyakarakas dedicate songs to Radha so this song is rather unique. While Jayadeva’s work is overtly erotic, the Kavi’s words are more subtle with a subtext of eroticism. Sanskrit is a great language for multiple meanings! I find that Raga Kalyani is perfect for the sringara bhava of this song. I must mention that it is one of the poet’s Saptaratna Kritis. Surprisingly, this song doesn’t seem to be sung often by musicians. I have always loved Aruna Sairam’s renditions of this song, so it is her music that I present to you today.
Footnote (Lyrics and Meaning) :
माधव हृदि खेलिनि
मधुरिपु समदन वदन मधुपे जय (माधव)
वीतोपमान वेणुगान नाद सुलय रसिके रसालये
नानाविध पुश्पिताग्र सुगन्ध लता निकुञ्ज मन्दिर सदने (माधव)
राधे रसयुत रास विलासे
स्वर साहित्यम् 1
श्री हरि प्रेमाखण्ड मण्डल साम्राज्य अधिपते (राधे)
स्वर साहित्यम् 2
सप्तविम्शति मुक्ता मालिक शोभित कन्धरे मधुकर (राधे)
स्वर साहित्यम् 3
निन्दित सारस रिपु किरण धवल रदन विकसितोज्ज्वलयुत मनसिज (राधे)
स्वर साहित्यम् 4
नगधर गोप वधूजन कुतुक नटनाद्भुत कम्प्रहार समान
चामीकर सरसिज करतल मृदु ताल कलकलरव मणि वलये (राधे)
स्वर साहित्यम् 5
करतल कमले रति समये जित माधव मणिमय कुण्डल खेलित सुकर्णिके
प्रपीत तत् सुभाषित श्रुति युगले सरस रस रसने (राधे)
स्वर साहित्यम् 6
समधिक नव नव व्रज तरुणीजन चलाचल नटन कोलाहल समये
कृत रूषित माधव सहिते मुनि मनसामपि कलिल तन्नटन
निरवधि सुखानन्द निमग्न हृदये सदये अति अद्भुतानङ्ग
केली विलास चतुरे भावित त्रिभुवन मधुरस रसिके मधुकर
राधे रसयुत रास विलासे
हरि स्मरण सुखवर प्रसादे
मनो मुदित लीला विनोदे
सङ्ग्रहीतम् अपि श्स्त्र जघन रुचिर कनक वसने मृदु वचने ((माधव)
mAdhava hRdI khElini
madhuripu samadana vadana madhupE jaya
vItOpamAna vENugAna nAda sulaya rasikE rasAlayE
(madhyamakAla sahityam-twice normal tempo)
nAnAvidha pushpitAgra sugandha latA nikunja mandira sadanE
rAdhE rasayuta rAsa vilasE
svara sAhityam 1
shrI hari prEmAkhaNDa maNDala sAmrAjya adhipatE
svara sAhityam 2
saptavimshati muktA mAlika shObhita kandharE madhukara
svara sAhityam 3
nindita sArasa ripu kiraNa dhavala radana vikasitOjjvalayuta manasija
svara sAhityam 4
nagadhara gOpa vadhUjana kutuka naTnAdbhuta kamprahAra samAna
chAmIkara sarasija karatala mRdu tAla kalakalarava maNi valayE
svara sAhityam 5
karatala kamalE rati samayE jita mAdhava maNimaya kuNDala khElita sukarNikE
prapIta tat subhAshita shruti yugalE sarasa rasa rasanE
svara sAhityam 6
samadhika nava nava vraja taruNIjana chalAchala naTana kOlAhala samayE
kRta rUshita mAdhava sahitE muni manasAmapi kalila tannaTana
niravadhi sukhAnanda nimagna hRdayE sadayE ati adbhutAnanga
kElI vilAsa chaturE bhAvita tribhuvana madhurasa rasikE madhukara
rAdhE rasayuta rAsa vilAsE
hari smaraNa sukhavara prasAdE
manO mudita lIlA vinOdE hariNAm upakUhita
(madhyamakAla sAhityam-twice normal tempo)
sangrahItam api shastra jaghana ruchira kanaka vasanE mRdu vachanE
Victory to (jaya) she who dallies (khElinI) in the heart of (hRdI) of the intoxicated (madhupE) Krishna (madhuripu-enemy of Madhu) with the enamoured (samadana) face (vadana).
She who is the very seat of all enjoyments (rasAlayE), who enjoys (rasikE) the beautiful rhythm (su-laya) of the incomparable (vItopamAna) sound (nAda) of flute-music (vENu gAna)
She who is the slender woman (latA) who lives in (sadanE) a house (mandira) like an arbour (nikunja) covered to the tips (agra) with all kinds (nAnAvidha) of fragrant (sugandha) flowers and blossoms (pushpita).
O Radha (rAdhE) who enjoys (vilAsE) the emotionally flavourful (rasayuta) Rasa* dance (rAsa) (Note* Rasa dance was a rustic dance of cowherds, the dance of Krishna and the Gopis).
Svara Sahityam 1
She who is the owner of (adhipatE) of the undivided (akhanDa) zone (maNDala) of Krishna’s (shrI harI) love (prEma).
Svara Sahityam 2
She who is free (muktA) of the twenty-seven (saptavimshati, unsure what this 27 refers to, some kind of shortcomings?), the lover (madhukarE) whose neck (kandhara) is adorned with (shObhita) a garland (malika).
Svara Sahityam 3
She whose loved one (manasija) is possessed with (yuta) an expanded (vikasita) splendour (ujjavala), with beautiful (dhavala) rays (kiraNa), who tore apart (radana) his enemy (ripu), the despicable (nindita) stork (sArasa, refers to Bakasura).
Svara Sahityam 4
She who is the woman (vadhUjana) of the one who held (dhara) the mountain (naga, referring to Govardhana), whose eager (kutuka) dance (naTana) with swinging (kampra) garlands (hAra) is extraordinary (adbhuta), who is like (samAna) a golden (chAmikara) lotus (sarasija), whose soft (mRdu) palms (karatala) beat (implied) a rhythm (tAla) while his gem-studded bangles (maNi valaya) jingle (kalakalarava, a confused noise).
Svara Sahityam 5
She with the beautiful ears (sukaRNikE) who has won over (jita) Krishna (mAdhava), she whose palms (karatala) are like a lotus (kamalE), whose gem-studded (maNImaya) earrings (kuNDala) move to and fro (khElita) at the time of (samayE) making love (rati), she with those (tat) eloquently (subhAshita) swollen (prapIta) pair (yugalE) of shruti (ears), she who savours (rasanE) passionate (sarasa) emotions (rasa).
Svara Sahityam 6
During (samayE) the hubbub (kOlahala) caused by (implied) a group (vraja) of many (samadhika) very young (nava nava) maidens (tarunIjana) in an ever-moving (chalAchala) dance (naTana), the well adorned (kRta rUshita) Krishna (mAdhava) along with (sahitE) holy men (muni) wholeheartedly (manasAm api) joined in (kalila) that (tat) dance (naTana). The clever one (chaturE) who created (bhAvita) the three (tri) worlds (bhuvana), the one who is fond of (rasikE) sweetness (madhurasa), that compassionate (sadayE) lover (madhukara) took pleasure (vilAsa) in the very (ati) extraordinary (adbhuta) amorous play (ananga kEli) giving (implied) infinite (nirvadhi) pleasure (sukha) and joy (Ananda) deep in (nimagna) the heart (hRdayE).
O Radha (rAdhE) who enjoys (vilAsE) the emotionally flavourful (rasayuta) dance of the cowherds (rAsa), who takes great (vara) comfort (sukha) in receiving (implied) the grace (prasAdE) of being in the mind (smaraNa) of Krishna (Hari), who takes pleasure in (vinOdE) in the delightful (manO mudita) play (lIlA), who has been very much (upa) deceived (kUhita) by Hari (hariNAm) with all his praise (sangrahItam-collection, shastra-praise)(note: I’m uncertain about my translation of this sentence), whose beautiful (ruchira) hips (jaghana) are robed (vasanE) in gold (kanaka), who is soft (mRdu) spoken (vachanE)!